October 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA1

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Interactive Distance Learning Effectively
Provides Winning Sports Nutrition Workshops

This study compared an interactive distance-education format and a face-to-face format for providing sports nutrition continuing education workshops for health care and education professionals. A collaborative team of state and county Cooperative Extension and a County Health Department faculty and staff conducted the study using The Winning Edge: Nutrition for Fitness and Sport curriculum. The results indicated that a well-designed distance-education format is as effective and acceptable as a face-to-face format for providing workshops. In addition, responses to 6-month follow-up evaluations indicated that the workshop contents were useful for providing sports nutrition education programs in workshop participants' communities.

Jennifer Ricketts
Instructor, Department of Nutritional Sciences
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Internet Address: jrickett@ag.arizona.edu

Sharon Hoelscher-Day
Family and Consumer Sciences Food Safety Coordinator
Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Community Health Programs
Phoenix, Arizona
Internet Address: shday@ag.arizona.edu

Gale Begeman
Nutrition Counselor, University of Arizona Campus Health Service
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Internet Address: begeman@health.arizona.edu

Linda Houtkooper
Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences
University of Arizona, Cooperative Extension
Tucson, Arizona
Internet Address: houtkoop@ag.arizona.edu


Nutrition practices play important roles in helping adults and youths achieve their personal best in exercise, sports performance, and good health (McArdle, 1999). The nutrition practices that help maximize exercise performance can also help promote good health and minimize risk factors for chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and osteoporosis. Research-based sports nutrition continuing education can serve to update and refresh the knowledge and applications of this information for athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, dietitians, and other health education and fitness professionals. Expanding delivery methods of continuing education programs for professionals is critical for improving access to these programs.

Considerable interest exists in the development of alternative delivery approaches for community continuing education programs. With the expansion and advances in technology, distance-education provides an attractive choice for busy working professionals to obtain access to continuing education opportunities. Distance education takes place when teachers and students are separated by physical distance yet connected via technology, often in concert with face-to-face communication, bridge the instructional gap (Engineering Outreach, 1994a; Christensen, 1995). Delivery of distance education can occur in concert with face-to-face instruction to increase the number of participants reached and to minimizing travel time for both participants and instructors, particularly in rural areas.

Many educators ask if distant students learn as much as students receiving traditional face-to-face instruction. Research comparing distance education to traditional face-to-face instruction for credit courses indicates that teaching and studying at a distance can be as effective as traditional instruction when:

  • The method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks,
  • There is student-to-student interaction, and
  • There is timely teacher-to-student feedback (Engineering Outreach, 1994a; Palloff & Pratt, 1999).

The impact of face-to-face sports nutrition education workshops compared to that of an interactive distance-education format for continuing education had not been evaluated prior to this project. Thus, there was a need to compare the effectiveness and acceptability of these two educational delivery approaches. The purpose of the study reported here was to evaluate two formats, face-to-face and distance, for outreach continuing professional education in sports nutrition.


  1. To provide research-based continuing education workshops in the area of nutrition for fitness/sports, including educational materials for workshop participants to use in presenting information and programs to people in their communities.
  2. To evaluate a distance-education format versus a face-to-face format in providing sports nutrition continuing education workshops.
  3. To evaluate the short-term outreach education efforts of workshop participants in their local communities.

Development, Implementation, and Evaluation

The workshops were titled "The Winning Edge: Nutrition for Fitness and Sport." The development, implementation, and evaluation of these workshops was a collaborative effort by a team of faculty and staff from the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Nutritional Sciences; County Cooperative Extension offices; Educational Communications and Technologies Office; The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center - College of Public Health, Biomedical Telecommunications network; Northern Arizona University microwave network (NAU-NET); and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. The team was lead by a State Nutrition Specialist, while all team members worked collaboratively to help develop, implement, and evaluate the workshops.

Workshop Format and Content

The project team organized and planned the workshops primarily via conference phone calls. These calls were conducted approximately once a month beginning in January each year for the fall workshop. The planning process for the workshop included:

  • Setting a date and time,
  • Securing interactive network and classroom time,
  • Developing a brochure,
  • Marketing the workshop,
  • Developing a workshop agenda,
  • Obtaining continuing education units from professional organizations,
  • Educating faculty and facilitators on their roles,
  • Preparing kits of teaching tools, and
  • Developing evaluation tools.

The first 5.5 hour-long Winning Edge: Nutrition for Fitness and Sport workshops was presented in September and October, 1996. Two workshops were presented in the face-to-face format, and two were presented to three distance sites. The distant sites used a full motion live broadcast setup through a satellite telecommunication system managed by Northern Arizona University and instruction originating from a University of Arizona College of Agriculture teaching studio.

Workshops were also held in the fall from 1997 to 2000 using the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center's (AHSC) Biomedical Telecommunications network, with a face-to-face classroom site in Tucson linked to a distance classroom site in Phoenix. The AHSC network setup also uses an interactive, full motion, live broadcast system. The most recent workshop held used the AHSC network and included the face-to-face site linked to two distance sites. The agenda for the 1999 workshop is presented in Appendix 1. Each time these workshops were presented, approximately 75% of the instruction originated from the face-to-face site, while 25% originated from the remote site.

An Extension nutrition specialist was the primary teacher of the 1996 workshops. At the 1997-1999 workshops, guest lectures included a university professor and a sports nutritionist with an M.S. in Nutritional Sciences. At the 1999 and 2000 workshops, a panel of sports nutritionists and dietitians presented case studies of nutrition education/counseling, which included information about a female high school basketball player, a college football player, a professional hockey player, and a female fitness enthusiast client. Specific questions were asked to panel members from both the face-to-face and distant site audiences following each case study.

Cooperative Extension faculty and staff at each workshop site facilitated workshop instruction. One site also had a facilitator from a county health department. Facilitators were provided with instructional kits containing the materials and supplies required for each workshop. The kits were assembled by the program coordinator and were shipped to the site facilitators at the distance site locations. The facilitators led activities at their sites and promoted discussion during the question and answer periods between the workshop instructors and participants.

The core curriculum used to teach the workshops was based on the award-winning Arizona Cooperative Extension training manual and video, Winning Sports Nutrition. The curriculum is easy to use and contains many teaching tools, including entertaining graphics, conditioning activities, and handouts.

The manual is distributed nationally by The University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Educational Communications and Technologies Office and by three commercial companies. In 1995, the curriculum was selected and used by the National Collegiate Athletic Association as the nutrition component of their Life Skills Education Program. In addition, supplementary references such as World Wide Web sites were provided to the workshop participants. Additional information on the curriculum can be found at the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Nutrition, Exercise, and Wellness Web site: http://ag.arizona.edu/NSC/new/index.htm.


Brochures were developed to market the workshops. The target audiences for these workshops were coaches, athletic and fitness trainers, dietitians and nutritionists, Extension agents, health care providers, health educators, and teachers. Mailing lists were obtained from professional organizations to reach these groups, and brochures were sent approximately 8 weeks before the workshop date. Continuing education credits were provided to workshop participants by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, American Council on Exercise, American Dietetic Association, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc., National Athletic Trainers Association, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and The University of Arizona Extended University.


Outcome evaluations from workshop participants were collected immediately after the workshops and at a 6-month follow-up period. At the workshops, participants completed written evaluations regarding the content, format, instructors, length, and usefulness of the workshop. Questions on these aspects of the workshop were rated on a scale of 1-5 (1 = poor/not useful and 5 = excellent/ very useful).

The follow-up evaluation surveys were mailed to participants 6 months after the workshop using a modified Dillman Method (Dillman, 1978). These follow-up evaluations were used to assess short-term impacts of the workshop on participants' knowledge change and the educational efforts of participants in their communities. Items in the evaluations included the number of hours spent providing education programs, the number of people for whom these programs were provided, and any changes in participants' knowledge as a result of the workshop.

Statistical Analysis

Descriptive statistics include a summary of the mean ± SD for all evaluation questions. Independent t-tests were used to assess differences between the average scores for each evaluation item for the distance versus face-to-face format for each year of the study. The probability level was set at 0.05.


The number of workshop attendees (N) and ratings they gave for the workshop over the 5-year period are summarized in Table 1. The ratings are based on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). The average scores for the overall rating of the workshop were high and similar for each of the workshops. The overall rating of the workshop was only slightly higher from the face-to-face participants compared to the distance participants.

Table 1
Overall Rating for Workshops. Average Values for Responses to Evaluation Question #12, "What overall rating would you give the workshop?"*

Table One: Workshop Ratings

The evaluation scores for all items in the workshop evaluation for each format are summarized in Table 2. The average scores for each item were high and ranged from 2.8 to 5.0.

There were no significant differences in average scores between the face-to-face and distance formats for any evaluation items. The comparisons of average scores of evaluation items for the two different workshop formats demonstrated that the overall ratings were only slightly higher for the face-to-face format compared to the distance-education format and that the differences were not significant. The only difference noted was the value of the exercise breaks between face-to-face and distance locations. In addition, 95% of the participants indicated that there was adequate interaction with the instructors at the distant sites, and 100% said they would attend another workshop taught using this format. There were high levels of participation during the question and answer periods for both instructional formats.

Table 2
Nutrition for Fitness and Sport Workshop Average Scores (mean±SD) for Responses to Evaluation Items

Table Two: Average Evaluation Scores

The follow-up evaluation survey completed by participants indicated that the workshops increased their sports nutrition knowledge. The information and materials obtained at these workshops were used by participants to provide educational efforts with other people in their community. More than half of the Winning Edge workshop participants from 1996-2000 returned surveys. The results from the 6-month post-workshop surveys indicate that the responding participants, in total, provided educational programs to approximately 5500 people (Table 3).

Table 3
Summary of 6-Month Follow-Up Workshop Surveys Responses

Table Three: Six-Month Followup Workshop Responses


Technological advances that allow the learner to see, hear, and interact in real time with diverse information sources are fueling interest in distance learning and providing an explosion of available information sources (Christensen, 1995). Our workshops used these advances to offer continuing education programs that took advantage of the best information and educators available. While lectures were included in our workshop, we also included computer graphics, interactive multimedia, and expert instructors based at different locations for a richer and more personal continuing education program.

A key finding of this study was that our distance education format was as effective as our face-to-face format for teaching sport nutrition continuing education workshops. The average ratings for the evaluation items showed only slightly higher average scores for the face-to-face format than for the distance education format, but the differences were not significant.

Similar findings have been published describing success in delivering distance continuing dental education. These dental students reported being very pleased with the amount of interaction with the instructor and the travel time and cost savings from taking the course from a distant site (Johnson, 2000).

Students taking our workshop from the very northern part of Arizona indicated that the savings of time and expense from not having to travel to Tucson contributed significantly to their ability to participate in the workshop.

It is clear that distant site students can have a cost-saving benefit from not having to travel too far, but institutions and instructors don't necessarily see immediate cost-savings. Although the expense of developing and implementing distance education delivery systems and programs continues to fall, the start-up and ongoing costs of operation remain significant.

It is also clear that one of the greatest challenges--and strengths--of distance education will come from inter-institutional partnerships. These partnerships will provide the basis for regional professional relationships as well as for electronic networking and resource sharing, while encouraging the exchange of information, expertise, and instructional applications to benefit all participants. Such partnerships can provide a variety of opportunities:

  • They can serve as gateways into communities to support lifelong learning;
  • They can provide a point of interaction between the educational, business, and government communities; and
  • They can be used as an economic development tool for remote communities (Wagner, 1993).

While contemporary interactive technologies make it possible for teachers and learners to engage in real-time, two-way communication over distances (Lochte, 1993), it is important to remember that the interactivity provided by the technologies does not necessarily guarantee that instructional interaction will ensue. Interaction is a function of good instruction, regardless of the technologies being used to deliver that instruction (Wagner, 1992; Wagner, 1993). Careful planning and good instruction will continue to have the greatest influence on the effectiveness of distance learning. Our workshops were developed using the strategies listed below.

Educational Planning

Lesson planning is especially important when teaching and learning at a distance (Okimoto, 1991). Key factors that are important when planning lessons for distance delivery include:

  • Knowing something about the distant students,
  • Having clearly stated instructional objectives,
  • Visualizing content,
  • Providing practice opportunities and feedback on performance, and
  • Having a closing point for the session.

Instructional Variety

Wagner (1993) contends that instructional formatting for distance education should be varied approximately every 20 minutes to maintain the attention of the audience. For example, viewing a videotaped example of the topic being presented, followed by small-group activities, then a large-group discussion. In addition, activities focusing on content should be designed to encourage interaction between the instructor and students.


The role of the facilitator must be functionally conceptualized and clearly articulated (Wagner, 1993). In order to be effective, facilitators must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Facilitators are invaluable to the success of distance education programs. They serve as the liaison between the instructor and the participants, as well as between the "home" site and the "host" site. They help keep faculty aware of student perspectives, manage the distant environment to maximize learning effectiveness, and troubleshoot equipment.

Modifying content delivery to accommodate technology can be a challenge; however, many instructors feel the opportunities offered by distance education outweigh the obstacles. In fact, instructors often comment that the focused preparation required by distance teaching improves their overall teaching and empathy for their students (Engineering Outreach, 1994b).

Effective distance education programs always begin with careful planning, a focused understanding of the workshop requirements, and student needs (Engineering Outreach, 1994a). Appropriate technology can only be selected once these elements are understood in detail. Effective distance education programs evolve through hard work, dedication, and integrated efforts of students, faculty, facilitators, support staff, and administrators.

Although technology plays a key role in the delivery of distance education, educators must remain focused on instructional outcomes rather than the delivery technology (Biner, Bink, Huffman, & Dean 1997). We subscribed to this systematic approach in developing our sports nutrition workshop and have been rewarded by capacity enrollment each year while reaching students throughout Arizona.


Interactive distance education technology makes it possible to reach participants in multiple locations with one workshop while minimizing travel for instructors and participants. The results of this study indicate that a distance-education format based on a successful model is as effective as a face-to-face format for providing fitness/sport nutrition workshops for continuing education using a collaborative team effort and interactive telecommunication networks. Responses to the 6-month follow-up evaluations demonstrated that the curriculum provided at the workshop for the participants to deliver educational programs in their communities were effective as well. This study demonstrates that well-designed educational programs combined with technology can expand and improve the impact of continuing education offered by Cooperative Extension for health professionals.


Biner, P. M., Bink, M. L., Huffman, M. L., & Dean, R. S. (1999). The impact of remote-site group size on student satisfaction and relative performance in interactive telecourses. American Journal of Distance, 9 (2), 23-33.

Christensen, T. (1995). Is distance learning the boom industry for the next decade? Board of Trade News, July/August.

Dillman, D. A. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method. New York: Wiley.

Engineering Outreach. (1994a). Distance education: An overview. In Distance Education at a Glance, Guide #1. College of Engineering, University of Idaho.

Engineering Outreach (1994b). Strategies for teaching at a distance. In Distance education at a glance, Guide #2. College of Engineering, University of Idaho.

Johnson, L. A. (2000). Continuing dental education via an interactive video network: Course development, implementation and evaluation. Journal of Educational Media. 25 (2) 129-141.

Lochte, R. H. (1993). Interactive television and instruction: A guide to technology, technique, facilities design, and classroom management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F.I., & Katch, V.L. (1999) Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Okimoto, H. (1991) Lesson planning. In M. McGill (Ed.) A Faculty Guide to Distance Education. Boulder, CO: Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Paloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999) Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace, Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Wagner, E. D. (1992) In Search of a Functional Definition of Interaction. A paper presented at the Massachusetts Corporation for educational Technology Publications.

Wagner, E. D. (1993) Variables affecting distance educational program success. Educational Technology, April.

Appendix 1: Agenda for 1999 Winning Edge Workshop

The Winning Edge: Nutrition for Fitness and Sport

Friday, October 29, 1999
Arizona Health Sciences Center
Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff
Instructors: Linda Houtkooper Ph.D., R.D. and Melinda Manore, Ph.D., R.D.
Guest Presenters: Tausha Robertson, M.S., Dan Wirth, M.S., C.S.C.S., Gale Welter, R.D., C.S.C.S., and Karla Wright, B.S., R.D.
Facilitators: Tucson ‚ Gale Welter, R.D., C.S.C.S., Phoenix ‚ Sharon Hoelscher Day, M.A., Shirley Strembel, M.S., R.D., Graduate Assistant: Carly Berndt, B.S.
Sponsors: University of Arizona College of Agriculture ‚ Cooperative Extension ‚ Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Medicine ‚ Arizona Prevention Center, Maricopa County Department of Public Health Services

Program Agenda

8:00 a.m. Registration / Sports Product Tasting / Networking
8:30 a.m. Welcome - Introductions - Overview
9:00 a.m. Nutrition Fundamentals
9:30 a.m. Exercise Break
9:45 a.m. Training Tip #1 - Eating for a Winning Edge
11:15 a.m. Weight Gain / Loss Strategies
11:30 a.m. Lunch Break
12:45 p.m. Training Tip #2 - Fluid Replacement for High Performance
1:35 p.m. Exercise Break
1:45 p.m. Training Tip #3 - Effective Nutrition Supplements
2:15 p.m. Applying Sports Nutrition - Part 1
Case studies with common problems/solutions
College Athlete
Semi-Pro and Professional Athlete
Questions & Answers
3:00 p.m. Break – Sports Product Tasting
3:15 p.m. Applying Sports Nutrition - Part 2
Case studies with common problems/solutions
High School Athlete
Fitness enthusiast / Weekend warrior
Questions & Answers
4:00 p.m. Review / Taste Test Results / Evaluation


Shirley Strembel, M.S., R.D.
Community Nutrition Programs Manager
Maricopa County Department of Public Health Office of Nutritional Services
Tempe, AZ 85292

Marifloyd Hamil, M.S.
4-H Youth Development and Extended Food and Nutrition Education Program Agent
Maricopa County Cooperative Extension
Phoenix, AZ 85040-8807

Beth Tucker, M.S.
County Extension Director
Coconino County Cooperative Extension
Flagstaff, AZ 86004-3605

Victoria Steinfelt, M.S., C.F.C.S.
Family and Consumer Sciences Coordinator
Yuma County Cooperative Extension Community Health Programs
Yuma, AZ 85364-6928