Sunday, March 4, 2012

Distance Learning

Distance Learning Experiences
Prior to pursuing my M.S. in Instructional Design with Walden University, my experience with distance education has been as an instructional designer developing online training courses for the Division of Family & Children Services. Through my professional experience, the concept of distance education is a familiar subject. Training courses are designed for both new and veteran workers to meet particular training requirements or simply as a refresher on specific policy. The training is interactive and contains policy information with accompanying exercises, assessments, and feedback. Learners also have the ability to contact an online instructor with comments or questions at any time which I believe is an important characteristic of distance learning. Distance education is defined as “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p.32). The separation between learner and instructor is primarily thought of in terms of geography but also can be in relation to time as well. While the term distance education is often synonymously referred to as distance learning, virtual learning, or e-learning, Dr. Simonson (Laureate Education, Inc.) points out that distance education is distinctly different from self-study e-learning where no teacher is present, emphasizing the importance of instructor/teacher interaction in the process.

History of Distance Education
Distance education has a history dating back to the early 1800s with its roots in correspondence studies offering composition, language, and civil service examination courses (Distance Learning Timeline Continuum). The availability and accessibility of distance education grew with increasing advancements in technology. In the early 1900s, through the use of radio and television, learning courses could be offered to a great number of people simultaneously. This availability has skyrocketed in recent decades with the advent of high speed internet, thus making distance education a convenient and credible means of continuing education for a great portion of the population of developed nations.

New Understandings of Distance Education
While I had a sound understanding of distance learning prior to starting the course, I have come to realize that my knowledge was rather general in nature with an emphasis more on current trends. I never considered the history of distance education and how it began. Much like those of us pursuing higher education today, Simonson et al. state “the original target groups of distance education efforts were adults with occupational, social and family commitments” (2011, p.39). I believe that I also took for granted the necessity of a teacher in the distance learning environment and probably would have incorrectly considered some self-study courses as distance education.

Future of Distance Education
As mentioned earlier, technological advancements have made distance education more accessible than ever. Simonson et al. state “opportunities are quickly growing through the use of computer-mediated communications and the Internet” (2011, p.40). With the rise of web 2.0 technologies, interaction and collaboration over great distances is conveniently possible simply by having access to the internet and having access to the internet can be as simple as having access to a smart phone. As technologies continue to improve, distance education becomes a viable option for a wide range of learning scenarios such as K-12, higher education, corporate training, and more and as distance education becomes even more prominent, it is also important to keep proven learning strategies at the forefront of design, ensuring “that the products of sound professional design practice lead the e-learning enterprise” (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008, p.70). I look forward to discovering new innovations that will make distance education even more accessible in the future. However, it doesn’t matter how easily accessible the material is if it is poor quality instruction.

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer) Distance education: The next generation. [Video file].Retrieved from

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

WaldenUniversity. (n.d.).  Distance Learning Timeline Continuum [Multimedia Program]. Retrieved March 2, 2012 from

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