What’s in it for Me? Incentives for Faculty Participation in Distance Education

Linda L Wolcott

Kristen S Betts

VOL. 14, No. 2, 34-49

The applications of information technologies in colleges and universities are affecting the character of higher education and, along with it, the role of the faculty. We are witnessing the integration of distance education and distributed learning environments, increasing competition for nontraditional providers, and the emergence of online courses and virtual universities. Using innovative technologies to reach dispersed audiences signals a new era for higher education and a redefinition of faculty work.

The faculty expects and deserves to be rewarded for its efforts to serve diverse student groups and to use innovative methods. However, experiences with continuing education and the adoption of technological innovation respectively confirm that beyond intrinsic rewards, the return on investment for off-campus teaching is low (Scott, 1984), and inadequate institutional commitment and support often deter even the most motivated faculty members (McNeil, 1990). Further, we know little about incentives and rewards associated with distance teaching. Dillon and Walsh’s (1992) review of faculty issues identified rewards and incentives as key issues relating to faculty participation. Later studies have examined policy and attitudinal barriers to participation (Bolduc, 1993; Clark, 1993; Shattuck & Zirger, 1993; Walsh, 1993), intrinsic motivation (Bolduc, 1993; Clark, 1993; Jackson, 1994), and the institutional reward practices (Wolcott & Haderlie, 1996). Limitations in our understanding of faculty participation, set against the background of a changing climate in higher education, prompted the investigations the findings of which are reported here.

This article addresses the question: What incentives are there for faculty in distance education? Answers to this question are based on findings from two independent studies that examined faculty reward and incentive issues. The first study took a naturalistic approach to examine the relationship between distance education and the institutional reward system. The research involved campus visits and in-person interviews with 32 individuals at four Carnegie I research institutions in the western United States. Most interviewees were full-time, tenure-track faculty members selected because they had taught one or more distance education courses and were within three years (either before or after) of receiving tenure. In addition, the chief academic officer and at least one distance education program administrator at each institution were interviewed. Data were collected primarily through audiotaped, semistructured interviews. Where available, policy documents such as strategic plans, tenure and promotion policies, and related documents were also analyzed. Findings relating to distance education and its relationship to the tenure and promotion process have been published separately (Wolcott, 1997).

The second study (Betts, 1998), conducted at a metropolitan university in the eastern US, surveyed 993 faculty and eight academic deans to identify factors that either positively or negatively influenced faculty participation in distance education. Based on the 539 responses (54%), Betts identified differences in perception between faculty members and their deans. This article collectively reports findings from the two studies to describe the incentives that motivated faculty, as well as those factors that inhibited them from becoming involved in distance education. We examine incentives, disincentives, and the interplay between perceived costs and benefits of participation.

Intrinsic Motivation and Incentives

One of the truisms of distance education is that teaching a distance course involves a considerable amount of work. This belief was reinforced in our studies. Although the faculty members were typically teaching courses that they had taught before in face-to-face settings, teaching at a distance required additional planning and time to prepare. A program administrator described the effort involved:

It’s the up-front investment that costs the faculty person so much. It takes that time to do the development properly, and I think if we are going to make technology work, we have to [do it right]. You know, it’s a lot more than putting your lecture notes together at the last moment before you walk into class; you have to do it well or it fails miserably. So that up-front investment is very important.

Teaching at a distance involved a lot of “hidden work” such as creating extensive course materials, communicating with off-campus students, and, in the case of programs such as nursing, coordinating clinical experiences for widely dispersed students. Large numbers of students in some distance education courses further compounded the work involved. These aspects of distance teaching often went unappreciated by administrators and other faculty members.

If you haven’t taught on [the distance education system], I don’t think that people understand the work involved. We [those of us in the department who have taught distance courses] understand the commitment that it takes; the rest of them, I think, think that we get away with not teaching a class or something like that. And I just don’t think they understand the pressures involved in it, and it’s more difficult a lot of times than having that extra class to teach [because distant students are demanding] and want the connection [with the faculty member].

A professor from a different discipline concurred and noted the impact of information technology:

It takes a lot of extra time and I’m not sure that most people realize how much extra time it does take, and with the advent now of multiple technologies being involved, you know, to stay up to date … you spend a lot more time communicating with those folks than you may have done a couple of years ago.

The question of workload emerged as a major concern for the faculty. Respondents were not always in agreement as to how workload for distance education should be configured: should distance teaching be part of one’s assigned teaching load or treated as “overload”? Participants in the qualitative study divided into two camps on this issue: those who said that distance teaching was “just part of the assignment,” and others who viewed distance teaching as “above and beyond” assigned teaching responsibilities. An academic vice-president contended that “teaching a course by distance education is teaching a course; faculty are hired to teach courses and do other things, but that’s one of the most important things.” Those interviewees with direct experience in distance teaching, namely, the faculty and distance education program administrators, tended to view distance teaching from the opposing perspective. “Typically [teaching a distance course] is an additional burden, an additional load, so, for the most part, I think faculty believe, and rightly so, that there should be some compensation for that additional load.” The challenge, then, for participating institutions was how to expand their educational outreach and at the same time attract the best faculty members and compensate them (monetarily or otherwise) for the additional work that distance education represented.

Lonsdale (1993) outlined several general principles from motivation theory that apply to academic staff. In an academic environment, he noted, intrinsic satisfactions are more effective than extrinsic factors in influencing motivation and performance. Taylor and White (1991) found this to be true with respect to distance education; faculty members were motivated to teach in distance programs more by intrinsic than extrinsic reasons. The findings represented in this article support the earlier finding and add to our understanding of factors that motivate faculty members to participate in distance teaching.

The faculty members were not enticed to teach distance education courses by the promise of some external reward such as a stipend, merit pay, a promotion, or an award; indeed, the rewards offered by the institutions were few. For the most part the faculty members were not in it for the money; rather, they participated in distance education programs to fulfill one of several personal or socially derived satisfactions. The top five motivating factors as rated by the faculty participators whom Betts surveyed can all be described as intrinsic: (a) the ability to reach new audiences that cannot attend classes on campus; (b) the opportunity to develop new ideas; (c) a personal motivation to use technology; (d) an intellectual challenge; and (e) overall job satisfaction.

Interviews revealed that many faculty members saw in distance education the opportunity for personal and professional growth. A mid-career faculty member explained this motivation by saying, “I was personally looking for a new challenge. I was, I don’t want to say, bored with the type of teaching I was doing, but I was ready for something new.” Later she added, “I think maybe a sense of adventure—that’s probably what led me into [distance teaching] and, you know, I kind of wondered if I could do that.”

Many faculty members accepted distance education as a personal challenge to improve their teaching and develop competence in using new delivery media and innovative techniques. Distance education held a strong appeal for faculty who were intrigued by technology and motivated by the opportunity to learn to use and integrate telecommunications systems in their teaching. Independent of rank, those faculty members who were likely to be easily recruited to distance education characterized themselves (or were so characterized by their peers) as “early adopters,” “early innovators,” “risk-takers,” or “adventurous.”

[Teaching in a distance program] tends to fall on people that are more innovative, you know, people who are looking for a challenge or intrigued by the technology, wanting to do something new and different, and their level doesn’t seem to correlate perfectly with that kind of interest.

Faculty and administrators frequently alluded to a trickle-down effect from distance teaching; the effort invested in preparing and teaching distance courses often had the added benefit of improving materials and teaching for on-campus courses. One of the primary examples was the development of an expanded syllabus or course manual. Of one such product a professor enthusiastically reported, “It’s made an enormous impact on campus, probably even more than with the distance people … it made it easier for my on-campus people to learn.” Through activities such as these, distance teaching helped faculty build their teaching record, achieve personal fulfillment, and develop professionally.

A number of motivations can be classified as altruistic, having to do with the satisfaction faculty experienced from working with off-campus students. Many faculty members were committed to their institution’s outreach mission; they found it gratifying to provide access to students who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to further their education. “Probably the biggest reward is student appreciation.… I feel it’s probably the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.” And the experience could be one of rejuvenation:

I came away from those weekends [teaching a distance course] completely energized! And, you know, essays would come out of those weekends where I began to see things and connections that I hadn’t otherwise. I liked the students . lot and that was really a big part of it.

Through distance education faculty members drew satisfaction from helping the department increase its enrollment and influence and from sharing in the recognition the department received. “Even if you know you’re not getting any particular rewards individually doing it, you know that you’re helping the department in some way.”

For some, distance teaching had become an “ethical commitment” to returning and place-bound students. A nursing professor described her commitment this way:

I’ve decided that the two core values that govern my professional life are: “What does this do for women?” and “What does this do for [my field]?” [With respect to participating in] distance education, where the majority of the students out there are women.… I guess there were a lot of reasons, some [involving a] personal philosophy and some [involving my] wanting to really make a difference.

For others the opportunity to work with motivated adult learners was its own reward.

[There is] some intrinsic satisfaction there in terms of dealing with a student populace that [sic] most of whom are working full-time and can actually apply some of the things you’re doing in class to their job at that point in time.… So from that standpoint, you get a lot of intrinsic satisfaction, a lot of reinforcement that this is the kind of stuff that’s needed.

Noting the work experience of adult learners and their penchant for relevant and practical information, one professor ventured that, “the distance students can sometimes be interesting—more interesting a lot of times—than my in-class students.”

Beyond personal satisfactions and altruistic motives, the faculty members found that their involvement in distance education afforded them certain career-enhancing perquisites. These included opportunities to carve out a professional niche for themselves, increase their visibility and reputation on both the state and national levels, establish and maintain “critical links” off-campus, and (as in the case of business and engineering in particular) make industry contacts that led to consulting. Although the activity of distance teaching itself may not have been accorded direct credit for tenure or promotion, the spin-offs from participating in distance education could and did contribute to individuals’ dossiers. A dean, whose college participates in a national distance education consortium, observed that a “side benefit” of distance teaching is its professional value in assisting a faculty member to “build a career on the added promotion and image that they get from teaching that course.”

When the faculty at the eastern university were asked to indicate which of 34 factors would motivate them to continue and/or increase their participation in distance education, those faculty members identified as participators responded in a follow-up survey with many of the same intrinsic motivators as those that had motivated them to participate originally. However, they added two extrinsic factors to the top ranked items: “technical support provided by the institution” and “increase in salary.” By contrast, in response to the question as to which factors would motivate their future participation in distance education, most of the factors the nonparticipators rated were extrinsic in nature: “increase in salary,” “monetary support for participation,” “working conditions (hours, location),” “technical support provided by the institution,” and “release time.”

These results provide additional evidence that internal factors exert a stronger influence on faculty’s motivation to participate in distance education than do external factors. Further, the lack of extrinsic incentives, especially of a financial nature, may account for faculty choosing not to participate. However, the data also suggest that although intrinsic factors may effect initial involvement, a faculty member’s motivation and subsequent response to incentives may change following the experience of teaching a distance education course.

Extrinsic Motivation and Incentives

Despite the apparent strength of intrinsic factors, institutions have traditionally emphasized extrinsic means to motivate faculty (Lonsdale, 1993). External motivators take the form of incentives and rewards offered as inducements to urge individuals to achieve a specified organizational goal. Incentives can range from nonsalary incentives such as extra vacation days and fringe benefits, to additional financial compensation. Bonuses, promotion, and institutional recognition are among the rewards.

Distance education reflects the practice in higher education to focus on extrinsic motivations as borne out by Taylor and White (1991) and more recently by Wolcott and Haderlie (1996). The latter found that compensation paid directly to faculty in addition to their base salary was a common form of institutional incentive. Over half (57%) of the respondents surveyed in their study reported that it was the practice at their institution to provide additional compensation to faculty for distance teaching. Direct monetary compensation typically consisted of either overload pay or a summer stipend. Results of their survey did not yield any patterns of compensation among the participating institutions. Rather, how faculty members were compensated varied widely among institutions and in institutions themselves depending on the distance education delivery system and the academic department.

There was widespread agreement among those interviewed for the present study that compensation for outreach teaching including distance education was not adequate. However, in relation to motivation, faculty members were less interested in remuneration than in an acknowledgment of their effort. A former department head and distance teacher noted that even a small gesture could be a sufficient incentive:

A thousand dollars isn’t going to do much for people in terms of motivation, but it was at least something to recognize them. [It’s like saying], “You’ve made a special effort; we can’t pay you what it’s worth, but this is a token.” I think that helped.

Among institutions studied there was a growing trend toward including distance teaching responsibilities as part of a faculty member’s assigned teaching load. Several economic factors appeared to influence this trend. First, grants from external sources that supported initial ventures in distance education had decreased, as had funding for higher education in general. Institutions neither had external funds nor were willing to continue to fund overload stipends for distance teaching in times of diminishing local resources. Second, because of the pressures from increased public scrutiny and legislated reductions in funding, the practice of faculty members earning supplemental pay had become a sensitive issue at several universities.

One academic vice-president explained his position on supplemental pay:

I’m not among that group of people who believe that faculty ought to be compensated differentially for participating in distance education. I believe we do do that here and it’s because of some historical accident.… I think if a faculty member is assigned to teach a course, then that’s his or her course assignment and if it happens to involve distance education then that’s what you do.

He went on, however, to voice a common sentiment: that faculty deserve some accommodation for their effort:

I recognize that there may be some additional preparation that might be required, but I would rather see that accounted for by … some other sort of incentive … rather than actually paying a faculty member to do what I think is really his or her job in the first place. It’s almost double compensation and might be illegal.

Indeed, as a consequence of the political climate and reductions in institutional funding, unit heads and program administrators reported looking to incentives other than direct monetary compensation to recruit and retain distance education faculty. In lieu of salary, course development grants provided faculty members with funds to support the purchase of necessary equipment, develop instructional materials, and pay for other incidentals associated with the development and implementation of a distance education course.

At several institutions administrators reduced a faculty member’s teaching load or offered one and a half or double credit for teaching a distance education course. This practice maintained their normal load credits, yet acknowledged the considerable preparation and coordination associated with a distance course while avoiding the issue of supplemental pay. Providing release time or “mini-sabbaticals” for course development were common forms of compensation. Other incentives included establishing travel accounts, purchasing new computer equipment, funding graduate assistants or graders, or providing valued campus commodities such as “a roving parking sticker.”

Although incentives encourage faculty participation, rewards provide the formal or informal means through which institutions recognize faculty for good performance. Among the institutions studied there were few examples of formal recognition for distance teaching or for innovative uses of technology in teaching. Only one university offered an award specifically for effective distance teaching, although most had institution-wide teaching awards for which all faculty members were eligible. In one college where students made the selection for the award, distant students had little input. Although deemed “a little bit hokey” by one distance education administrator, he, among others, considered that offering awards was “another form of enticement,” a type of recognition that could “go a long way.”

Less formal means provided faculty members with recognition for their efforts in distance education. For example, administrators expressed their appreciation both privately through casual “’atta boys” and notes of appreciation, and publicly in the form of certificates presented at college faculty or staff meetings. Faculty received recognition when program and academic administrators bragged about the successes of particular department programs and the efforts of individual faculty members. “We’ve tried to focus on them whenever we can and when we get particularly good anecdotes, we broadcast those around!” Yet two deans cautioned against recognizing individual faculty members for distance teaching out of fear of creating “two camps” among the faculty or “singling them out” by critiquing their teaching.

Conference presentations, publications, and grant awards earned faculty recognition outside the institution. For example, the receipt of a prestigious Annenberg/CPB grant for telecourse development garnered both local and national recognition for one professor. Others derived recognition from their association with national and international programs; some engineering faculty received exposure through the National Technological University (NTU), and one MBA program enrolled students worldwide.

Perhaps the most valued extrinsic rewards in academe are those of being awarded tenure and advancement in rank. Participating in distance education, however, was not a factor that carried much weight in influencing promotion or tenure decisions. Faculty had a difficult time making it count; they earned little credit for distance teaching beyond what was awarded at the department level. Apart from its value to the particular unit’s program, distance teaching was of negligible consequence as a scholarly activity in earning a faculty member tenure, merit, or promotion. Time and effort spent preparing instruction, creating materials, and managing distant students had little pay-off other than strengthening a good teaching record and sometimes contributing to the individual’s service component. Faculty found themselves in the position of having to “do all the other things and distance ed. too” to earn the ultimate rewards. Yet as the following observation suggests, credit for distance teaching had the potential to be a powerful incentive:

I wish there was some way that some of the extra effort that you have to put into it like [creating] the expanded syllabi and developing more creative ways of doing things … could be used for merit … it’s not to this point. If that could be built in to tenure track [credit], I think that would really help draw some of the younger tenure track people.

Betts’ (1998) survey shows that the institutional tendency to link faculty participation and satisfaction to extrinsic factors persists and represents a discrepancy in the perception of faculty motivation. Although faculty participators cited intrinsic reasons, the eight deans surveyed identified mostly extrinsic factors out of 34 factors as those they believed would motivate the faculty in their school to participate in distance education. These factors included: (a) monetary support for participation (e.g., stipend, overload); (b) personal motivation to use technology; (c) increase in salary; (d) credit toward tenure and promotion; and (e) release time.


However, other factors militate against participation in distance education. These cluster into two categories of disincentives that we define as inhibitors and demotivators. Inhibitors refer to those aspects or characteristics of distance teaching that relate to the cost of involvement. Demotivators are factors that represent the lack of benefits perceived to result from involvement. Both types of factors reduce personal motivation and pose a barrier to participation.

In Betts’ (1998) survey, inhibitors figured prominently among reasons for nonparticipation. Ninety percent of the nonparticipators indicated that they had contemplated, but decided against, getting involved in distance education. Their most frequently cited reasons for not participating were inhibitors: lack of time, concern about the absence of student-faculty (face-to-face) interaction found in the traditional classroom, and lack of skills needed to become involved in distance education. The few nonparticipators who had been asked to teach a distance education course, but had chosen not to, offered time constraints and a preference for traditional teaching as the main reasons for declining.

Time was the primary inhibitor for respondents in both studies. As described above, faculty and administrators alike commented on the amount of work involved in successful distance teaching. Interviewees emphasized the extra time required to prepare courses for distance delivery, as well as the time it took to manage distance courses and to communicate with distant students. Concerns that “the quality will be lost if it’s not face-to-face” also deterred faculty from getting involved. Betts (1998) asked specifically about potentially inhibiting factors. Both participators and nonparticipators included concern about the quality of courses and concern about faculty workload among the top five of 19 factors that would deter them from participating in distance education.

Lack of recognition for the amount of work and time involved emerged as a major demotivating factor for the participants interviewed by Wolcott (1997). In particular, faculty lamented the lack consideration accorded distance teaching in tenure and performance reviews. Uncertainty surrounding the issue of credit for teaching distance courses introduced an element of risk that had a negative effect on faculty motivation, as an academic vice president explained:

There’s a degree of risk there that may be a de-motivator for people to get involved with these efforts. So … the credit issue [is a] very real thing that a faculty member has to deal with. They need a lot of support from the department chair or head as well as the dean in order for them to feel comfortable, especially if they are junior faculty.

Concern about a lack of technical, administrative, and/or financial support was a reason nonparticipators also gave for not getting involved in distance education. Factors that had the potential to inhibit involvement among both participators and nonparticipators included the lack of technical support provided by the institution, as well as the lack of release time and absence of grants for materials and expenses. Just as intrinsic factors amounted to reasons to participate, external factors were often reasons not to participate.

Return on Investment

In the study of work motivation the relationship between job performance and satisfaction has been widely debated. Whether high performance causes satisfaction or satisfaction causes high performance remains controversial. Theories of work motivation describe the complex relationship that includes multiple variables such as motivation, expectations, and the administration of rewards. Exchange theories, for example, express the relationship in terms of inputs and outputs—a worker expects that certain actions will lead to a particular outcome. We have seen the exchange theory at work: faculty recognized that distance education required them to put in a good deal of time and effort; they expected some form of institutional reward or personal gratification in return.

However, inputs and outcomes explain only part of the performance-satisfaction equation; the other dimension involves perceived equity. The exchange framework, as in expectancy or valence theory (Vroom, 1964) and social comparison theory (Adams, 1964), further posits that both the value that the worker places on the outcome and the degree to which he or she perceives the outcome as equitable in relation to his or her effort and that of others determines the levels of both satisfaction and performance. The role of rewards emerges as an important determinant of the effort that one invests in work and the satisfaction that one derives from it.

The intrinsically motivated faculty placed a high value on the personal satisfactions of distance teaching; the outcomes justified their investment by returning professional growth and development along with a greater sense of personal accomplishment. However, those who valued and expected some external outcome such as merit pay, credit toward promotion or tenure, or other extrinsic rewards beyond contracted remuneration were often disappointed. Little recognition and few tangible rewards were perceived to be equal to the time and effort involved in distance teaching.

At first glance, equity did not appear to be an issue when distance teaching was treated as “just part of their normal load”; however, faculty members were quick to point out that one conventionally delivered course for one distance course was not an even exchange. “I’m not teaching six courses a year when I’m teaching one of these [distance education courses]; I’m teaching seven. … That’s an issue for some people,” including the speaker, a full professor.

Given the amount of work involved, an equitable return on investment was problematic from the point of view of both faculty and administrators. First, a representative faculty view:

I just don’t see any rewards for doing that [teaching a distance course] other than … remuneration … but as far as recognition for it, spending a lot of time with this and doing a good job with it, I don’t think there are any rewards for that.

A program administrator explained his dilemma in providing an equitable return: “[Distance teaching] takes more time, and yet we don’t have a lot of flexibility for rewards, either monetary or in terms of the tenure and promotion process.”

Equity was an issue of considerable importance to faculty when distance teaching was treated as overload. Typically, institutions approached overload teaching by offering additional monetary compensation, but in times of diminishing resources and with growing opposition to supplemental pay for faculty, institutions were looking for creative ways of dealing with overload. The perceived downside, however, was that distance teaching was still more work.

The one [important issue] that is on the negative side is the workload. [Distance teaching] requires much more work than a regular class assuming you get one section release … but it really is a second class [because of enrollment size].… It is like another section, so to say that’s an incentive, it really isn’t … the amount of work that you put into it … that’s [the complaint] we hear all the time.

A professor at another institution echoed this concern: “Sometimes you get a little bit of an advantage in terms of credit hour allotment … though (laughs) it doesn’t feel any different [because you’re working twice as hard]!”

Betts’ (1998) examined the question of perceived career advantages. She found that among the faculty involved in distance education, 71% of those surveyed stated that there were no advantages or that they were not sure there were any career advantages for participation in distance education at their institution. An even greater percentage (96%) of those faculty members who were not involved in distance education and six out of eight deans responded similarly. Over half of the participators and the nonparticipators reported that definite career advantages would make a difference to them in terms of becoming involved in distance education in the future.

Interviews revealed that distance teaching could have negative consequences for those junior faculty who because of their involvement often lost ground in building their research and publications record. Department chairs recognized that junior, nontenured faculty could not afford to invest significant amounts of time in distance teaching at the expense of activities that are more highly valued and rewarded. “You have to be careful, as far as the unit’s concerned, as to who will do this kind of work. It’s usually going to be your senior faculty.” It was common for both administrators and more senior faculty to counsel junior members against getting involved in distance education. They actively discouraged them, as a former department head explained:

I would not allow untenured faculty to teach [in our distance education program] and I tried also to protect them from committees and that sort of thing. [Distance teaching] just required such a time commitment that I didn’t think it was fair to untenured faculty.

In a companion article, Wolcott (1997) details the relationship between distance teaching and the institutional practices of tenure and promotion. Her conclusions illustrate the dangers to faculty in terms of their motivation and satisfaction when there is a mismatch between what the institution values and what it rewards.

In summary, participation in distance education hinged on how the faculty perceived the return on their investment. Was a valued outcome returned for the amount of effort invested? Was the exchange perceived as fair when compared with their effort and with the return experienced by others for comparable activities? The locus of motivation was a factor in shaping the perception and distinguished participators from nonparticipators. Internal motivation was a characteristic of those who were involved in distance education; they valued outcomes that returned personal satisfaction, and they sought them in distance education. Although the exchange was not always perceived as equitable when measured against external rewards, the benefit of participation in relation to personal motives outweighed the cost in terms of time and amount of work invested.

The faculty members identified as nonparticipators were extrinsically motivated. For them distance education represented a questionable return on investment. What they would put into distance teaching and what they might get out of it in terms of tangible, institutional rewards weighed heavily in their decision whether to participate. The perceived costs in terms of time and effort did not return benefits sufficient to warrant the investment.

Differences in the value placed on perceived costs and benefits were apparent among senior- and junior-level faculty. Owing to the particular stage of their careers, senior-level faculty measured the gains differently and attributed different values to them than did junior faculty members. Senior faculty had less to lose; getting involved did not cost them as much as it might cost a junior-level faculty member. They were freer to make the choice to participate in innovative practices and were more immune to the risks that such investments might pose in terms of career advancement. As a senior faculty member observed, “I’m senior in my career and I can afford to do a number of things that an assistant professor who’d like to do them cannot do.” Junior, nontenured faculty members, on the other hand, faced a different set of priorities and had more to gain and more to lose in terms of extrinsic benefits, specifically tenure and promotion.

Distance education was more likely to return intrinsic benefits than to return the extrinsic gains that the nonparticipators valued or that junior faculty members sought. When intrinsic outcomes were more highly valued, both groups of faculty members were equal with respect to gains. However, as was often the case with junior faculty, the expected benefits of an external nature did not always align with actual rewards.

When the costs of distance education represented more than the faculty member was willing to invest, they became a disincentive to participation. For example, the presence of such inhibitors as workload and time demands, together with demotivators such as the lack of recognition and the risk that distance teaching would not be credited toward tenure and promotion, deterred faculty from participating in distance education. In particular, the lack of extrinsic motivators in the form of institutional recognition and reward stood out clearly as disincentives for nonparticipators. Thus the lack of incentives themselves worked against participation.

As institutions respond to external pressures and as information technologies join the mainstream of educational delivery, teaching in distance and distributed programs is becoming more commonplace. Whether by design or default, faculty are finding themselves more involved in distance teaching. They can expect to invest a considerable amount of time and effort in an activity that is often a matter of public view and for which expectations of quality are high. Adequate incentives and equitable rewards are central issues in attracting the best faculty and keeping them involved.

“What’s in it for me?” The question is not necessarily an easy one to answer because the issues of motivation and work satisfaction are complex. The answer depends on a number of factors that are different from one individual to another, as well as from program to program and institution to institution. Encouraging faculty to participate in distance education involves the interaction of a number of variables including an individual’s locus of motivation, personal values, institutional values, and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. To recruit and sustain motivated faculty, institutions must offer valued incentives, eliminate disincentives, and provide equitable rewards for distance teaching. Specifically, institutions should implement the following recommendations regarding incentives and rewards for participation in distance education programs:


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Linda L. Wolcott is an associate professor and Interim Head of the Department of Instructional Technology at Utah State University. She is the author of a number of articles dealing with higher education faculty issues in distance education. In 1998 she was the recipient of the ECT Foundation Qualitative Research Award for her study of faculty rewards and the tenure and promotion process. Her email is wolcott@cc.usu.edu

Kristen S. Betts is the President of Research Strategies International (RSI) and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University. She works as a consultant with public and private corporations, the United States government, and higher education institutions worldwide in strategic planning, research, and distance education. Her email is kbetts@researchstrategies.com

ISSN: 0830-0445