Reflection on Distance Learning

“Distance education provides the opportunity to widen intellectual horizons, as well as the chance to improve and update professional knowledge. Further, it stresses individuality of learning and flexibility in both the time and place of study” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 39). The benefits of distance education are clear. However, there are still varying perceptions of distance education which exist within our society today. How will these perceptions change over the next 5-10 years? How can instructional designers be proponents for improving these perceptions? How can we, in the field of instructional design, be a positive force for the continuous improvement of distance learning? The following reflection on distance learning will attempt to address each of these questions.

It seems we are in a transition time where technology is growing to be so commonplace that it would be almost ridiculous to consider an educational model that would not include some form of distance education. George Siemens (2010), in speaking on the future of distance education, spoke of bridging the gap of comfort and explaining that as learners have more experience with technologies they will be more comfortable with using them in an educational format. Of all of the differing definitions of distance education, they all include the separation of the student from the teacher and other students. However, with the use of programs such as SkypeTM , FaceTime on an iPhone, and free video conferencing tools such as AnyMeetingTM the distance is being bridged. It seems that as these types of tools become more and more common, as even the personal computer has become, that distance education will not have the same negative perceptions to overcome. I believe that in the next 5-10 years distance education will be expected in both the higher education and corporate settings. What the perception of distance learning will be depends on the instructional designers and especially those who conduct these courses.

Instructional designers must become proponents of distance learning, because it is part of the landscape of education and will only continue to grow in its popularity. The current perceptions of distance education tend to be negative because of the lack of training for both the designers and the educators. Valentine (2002) reiterates this when he said, “As in any educational situation, the instructor can set the tone for learning in the educational environment. That instructor must be properly trained and motivated to be effective.  An instructor must have technological skills and confidence to use all of the various electronic devices in order to be truly effective in the electronic classroom.” Instructional designers must learn to design instruction to be effective in this format of distance learning. It is not the same as face-to-face, though some similarities may exist. As the Equivalency Theory explains we must design instruction that is equivalent to classroom but not identical. (Simonson et. al., 2012) It is the learning activities that will look different though the outcomes will be the same. When instructional designers begin to think in this context when designing for distance learning there will be a shift in the outcomes and thus the perceptions of the learners.

As I have taken this course, my own perception of distance learning has changed. From the content that was covered to the actual practice of being a distance learning instructor by Ronald Paige, I saw how distance learning can be conducted in a way that you do not compare it to a face-to-face course, but you simply learn from the activity of the distance learning platform.  So, how do I now continue this perception and spread it past own beliefs? I believe it will start with developing all distance learning coursework with the theory that guides it in mind. Simonson et. al. (2012) tell us that Holmberg suggested that “distance education has been characterized by a trial-and-error approach with little consideration being given to a theoretical basis for decision making” (p. 42). If we begin to base our decisions for design on sound theory then we are working from a strong foundation and this is where we should begin.

This course has also inspired me to consider online teaching as a possible future endeavor. I have such a strong passion for teaching and have always aspired to one day be a professor at the college level. I can now see myself doing this not only in a classroom but also in an online format. With the knowledge gained from this course and the experience of thinking through developing an online class with our activity I feel I could be successful. Being a positive factor in the continuous improvement of distance education starts with being a part of great distance education! I hope to be part of this exciting change in the field of education in the coming years.

References:

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). The future of distance education. [Video podcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3396926_1%26url%3D

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

Valentine, D. (2002).  Distance learning:  Problems, promises, and possibilities.  Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, V(III).  Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall53/valentine53.html

The Impact of Open Source

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From voipfreak.net

Anant Agarwal, a professor of MIT’s EECS department and President of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative of MIT and Harvard University, was interviewed on the Colbert Report about the phenomenon which is Open Source within higher education. During the interview, when asked about how it could be a good idea to offer a U.S. education to everyone for free he stated, “So, we’re giving away education. So, this is going to be good for the world. An educated world is a better world for everybody.” (Inside Higher Ed, 2013) There are a number of different ways to receive a free education available today for those who are willing to go out and find it. From MOOCs to free degrees online through schools like University of the People, there is no shortage of ways to access a free education.

MIT Open Courseware, found at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm, completed its initial publication of the materials from 1800 of the courses offered at MIT in 2007.  “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The President of MIT, L. Rafeal Reif, in his message on the OCW site explains that “MIT’s mission statement charges us to advance knowledge and educate students, and to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges for the betterment of humankind. Open sharing of knowledge is the purest manifestation of this mission” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The faculty of MIT uploads the materials from their face-to-face courses to the Open Courseware site in the hopes that those who want to find the knowledge can do so at no cost, anytime, anywhere.

The idea behind the MIT Open Courseware site follows the Theory of Independent Study proposed by Charles Wedemeyer most closely as it emphasizes “learner independence and adoption of technology” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). It gives the learner complete independence to take the materials presented and to use them as they see fit to learn the content. The adoption of technology comes from using the internet to access the materials and in some cases, where the course offers, to view video presentations. Wedemeyer does say that the relationship between the student and teacher is important (Smaldino et. al, 2012) and this is where these course offerings from the MIT Open Courseware stray from the theory as a distance learning model. There is no real relationship built with these courses between the teacher and learner as it is really more of a repository of information.

Essentially, these courses are the materials from the face-to-face courses offered on campus at MIT made available online to anyone. The courses include a syllabus, a calendar, suggested readings and assignments. Some of the courses also offer video or audio lectures, lecture notes, online textbooks, example student work, assessments, and interactive simulations. In the sense of these courses being consider distance education as proposed by Simonson et. al., they present a very loose interpretation. The definition for distance education proposed by Simonson et. al. (2012) is an “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (p.32). These courses meet all the criteria except for the interactive telecommunications. However, the courses are not developed with the online learner in mind. The courses are, in using terminology from the Equivalency Theory, identical and not equivalent. However, these courses are free and thus the expectation of “equivalency” would be unrealistic. The materials are available, what learners are able to glean is completely at their own discretion.

In evaluating this site and the courses offered for the sake of distance learning theory and the focus on the distance learner as an audience there is a definite disconnect from what is being outlined by Simonson et. al. However, for the purpose of the site and the mission of MIT, this site and its courses are meeting its goal. I think there is great value in these materials as they are available to those who are looking for the knowledge that is offered here. To learn from professors from an institution such as MIT, even if there is no two way interaction, is a great benefit. I, for one, plan to take advantage of this resource now that I am aware of the offering.

References:

Inside Higher Ed. (2013) Colbert Report Explains MOOCs. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/ quicktakes/2013/07/26/colbert- report-explains-moocs

MIT Open Courseware. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/

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