“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.
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