An Online Interview with Morten Flate Paulsen

By Melissa Alperin for the InTRO web site at the Georgia State University.

Morten Flate Paulsen
Director of Development at the NKI Internet College
Doctor of Education from the Pennsylvania State University


1. Would you describe your professional background and how you got into the field of Instructional Technology?

I finished my Master of Science in Engineering at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in 1980. In 1982, I started working for NKI (Norwegian Knowledge Institute), a major provider of distance education in Norway. There, I worked in a team that established the NKI College of Computer Science as a private, traditional, face-to-face campus. So, for several years I taught face-to-face courses on information technology in an organization with much expertise in distance education.

Working in this environment, I understood that I had a unique opportunity to apply information and communication technology in distance education. The real breakthrough came when I bought a modem in December 1985 to access the Bulletin Board Systems that were set up in private bedrooms around the world for exchange of software and text messages. I immediately understood that the technology could have an immense impact on distance education. As a result of this, I engaged two students to develop the EKKO conferencing system for the future NKI Internet College. The system was used for regular online education from 1987 to 1993.

During the establishment of the NKI Electronic College, we needed to study similar projects and we could not find any European institutions that offered online education before us. The only interesting projects we could find were in the USA. Eventually, my research and contacts lead me to the doctoral Program in Adult Education at Pennsylvania State University and a graduate assistantship with the American Centre for the Study of Distance Education.

2. In what areas of research and scholarship are you most interested?

I taught my first distance education course online in 1987. Since then, my main professional interest has been development, teaching, and administration of online education. At the moment, I’m most interested in how we can develop and organize large-scale, cost-effective online education. I have studied some of these issues through my participation in the European projects WEB-EDU, and CISAER. In the WEB-EDU project, I study Internet based learning management systems, and as a part of the CISAER Project, I wrote an international analysis of courses on the Internet. My project report provides strategic recommendations about issues of importance to online education. The results and discussions were based on literature reviews, catalogue entries submitted by 130 institutions in 26 countries, and 72 interviews with key persons at these institutions.

I’m also fascinated by mobile communication technology and I have started to learn more about m-learning to see if we can develop distance education services based on mobile technology through the European M-learning project.

You may find more information about these EU-projects at

3. Who has had the most impact on your career? Why?

Above all, my supervisor Torstein Rekkedal ( has for many years been a tremendous support with regard to professional advice and inspiration. Michael G. Moore urged me to start my doctoral studies at Penn State and engaged me at the American Center for the Study of Distance Education. Gary E. Miller was a very positive and encouraging thesis advisor. I have also found inspiration and resources for my research in several European projects in collaboration with my project partners Desmond Keegan, Robin Mason, and Ana Dias.

4. What are the "must read" books or articles in your research area(s)?

There are many new, but few really good books about online education. Besides from my own book “Nettbasert utdanning – erfaringer og visjoner” which is published in Norwegian and Danish, I would like to mention a few classic books.

In 1987, T.H.E. Journal published my article In Search of a Virtual School. That article has been the basis for most of my later work and research. Much of my inspiration was taken from the Virtual Classroom Project at New Jersey Institute of Technology. I would still recommend the project group’s book Computer-Mediated Communication Systems that was published in 1982 by Elaine B. Kerr and Starr Roxanne Hiltz. Two more books that defined the field of online education and meant much to me were Mindweave – Communication, Computers and Distance Education, edited in 1989 by Robin Mason and Anthony Kay, and Online Education – Perspectives on a New Environment, edited in 1990 by Linda M. Harasim. These classic books have been my foundation for online education.

5. What advice do you have for someone just entering the field of Instructional Technology?

In my opinion, Instructional Technology used in Online Education may facilitate collaboration and stimulate discussion between people, cultures, institutions, and subject areas. It is like a melting pot for educators. Young professionals who now enter the field of Instructional Technology should use these opportunities to learn from, and build on, all the experience and controversies that come from this melting pot.

One of the most obvious misapprehensions about online courses is that they should take place in front of the PC. Most online students spend much more time studying textbooks and preparing assignments than surfing the Internet. Even though both text and video can be presented online, paper is often a better medium for text and television is better for presenting video. Still, there is a tendency among online educators to substitute excellent textbooks with mediocre web material and superb videocassettes with a tiny, degenerated PC-version of the video.

6. If you had a crystal ball, what does the future hold for Instructional Technology?

Online education will become global, mobile, and multimedial. Global, because communication costs are virtually independent of distance. Mobile, since mobile technology is becoming omnipresent. And Multimedial, as a result of the continuous growth in bandwidth and processing capacity.

7. In the 15 years you have spent studying online education, what changes have you seen?

The changes are much less than one may expect. The technology may improve, but the most important tools for online education are still text-based reading material, e-mail, and discussion forums. We have experienced an evolution from text-based to graphic user-interfaces. The common bandwidth has increased from 300 bit per second to 64 000 bit per second. The important change is however, that online education has become a mass movement. In 1987, the NKI Internet College had 4 online students, now we approach 4000.

8. You are the founder of The Distance Education Online Symposium (DEOS), an online source of information related to distance education. What was the reason for founding DEOS and what niche did it (and does it) fill?

When I received my graduate assistantship at the American Centre for the Study of Distance Education, my assignment was to establish an online communication service to support the American Journal of Distance Education. After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a discussion forum on the CompuServe, Peter Cookson recommended me to test Listserv, and it became an immediate success.

In 1991, I became the founding editor of DEOSNEWS and the founding moderator of DEOS-L. I was DEOS-editor for 52 issues and three extremely interesting years. In February 1993, DEOSNEWS had 1,400 subscribers in about 50 countries. Several of the subscribers were redistribution lists, so we estimated that DEOSNEWS had about 10,000 readers, which was far more than any of the international print-based journals on distance education.

In 1999, DEOS claimed that it: “is not only the oldest on-line source of information, ideas, and discussions on the subject of distance education but is consistently referred to as one of the most highly regarded, indeed probably the most highly regarded of such sources. Numbers alone do not tell the whole story, and it is impossible to say, from an analysis of "hits" just how many people read the various items on DEOS and DEOS-L, but there are in excess of 4600 subscribers in over 80 different countries.”

9. You are Norwegian yet you have worked in both the U.S. and Norway - as well as presented in many international settings. What differences, if any, do you see in Instructional Technology when viewed from a global perspective? Do you think distance education will have an impact on international differences?

In the US, online educators tend to perceive the Internet as their home market. In Norway and many other countries, educators regard it as an opportunity to study online courses from the United States. If these countries not change their attitudes, they may soon experience a disturbing, American instructional imperialism. Norway is in several ways ahead of the US with regard to online education. Still, it is quite possible that American online tutors will dominate online education in Norway, just as American textbooks already dominate Norwegian higher education.

10. Your dissertation and subsequent writings have focused on teaching techniques for computer-mediated communication. You provide a framework in which you organize numerous pedagogical strategies into four categories (one-alone; one-to-one; one-many; many-many). What are the key messages readers should glean from this work?

My toolbox of techniques for online teaching shows that there is a very wide range of teaching techniques that have been recommended by online tutors. By providing all these examples of techniques that have been used successfully online, I hope to encourage and inspire online teachers and instructional designers to utilize a wider range of teaching techniques to improve online teaching.

Online education offers students excellent opportunities to individual communication with their tutors. They can be contacted via e-mail 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Few learning environments provide equal opportunities for individual access to teachers. It is obvious that online students appreciate to always have a personal tutor available. It is the students' dream, but it could soon become a nightmare for the tutors.

As you understand, I'm really concerned about the heavy workload reported by online teachers. Online education will never become a real success until we are able to limit the teacher workload. Therefore it is extremely important to consider teacher workload, especially during development of course assignments. By using my framework of four categories, you will have some more understanding on how teacher workload could be affected by the chosen teaching techniques.

11. Of all the projects in which you have been involved, of which are you most proud?

I’m most proud of my long-term, relentless determination to make the NKI Internet College a success. I’m also really proud of my success with the establishment of DEOS. I further enjoy remembering that I was able to do a half hour television interview with Bill Gates when he visited Norway several years ago and that I have been invited to give presentation at international conferences from Brasilia to Beijing.

One of the projects I hope to succeed with in the future is SPICE, the Specialization Program in International Online Education ( This is a five course, graduate program that is our first attempt to offer online education in English on the international market.

12.What does the future hold for online education?Will it eventually replace face-to-face education as the dominant delivery mechanism?

The future of online education is bright, but it will supplement, not replace, face-to-face education in the foreseeable future. First time students, and full-time students need to meet in an educational face-to-face environment. A growing number of part-time students will, however, prefer the superior flexibility of online education.