Defining Distance Learning

I currently work for an organization that parents a number of universities that provide degrees through both traditional classroom settings as well as completely online courses. Before attending courses here at Walden I had only ever taken one course online myself and that course as well as my knowledge about this type of course was from my exposure through my current employer. That being said, when I heard the term “distance education” as presented as the title of this course, my mind went directly to online learning. If you had asked me what my definition was I would have said something like, “Distance learning is a student taking courses online instead of in a classroom. They complete their work in their own space and in their own time as long as they meet the requirements of the institution. They communicate with their professors and the other students in their courses through the computer or by telephone.”

However, after only one week of reading and material in this course on distance learning, my understanding and my definition of distance learning has changed. Not only do I see that distance learning can involve other avenues of communication outside of a computer and online, but I also believe the work I do as an instructional designer within a corporate setting can be included in this broad methodology of learning.

Reading about the history of distance education this week was very eye opening. I hadn’t considered that distance learning could have begun at least 160 years ago. Of course, it looked a lot different then. “An advertisement in a Swedish newspaper in 1833 touted the opportunity to study ‘composition through the medium of the post.’” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2008) This mode of distance education is also one I had not thought about. My mind automatically goes to how I see distance learning today. A world where we have high speed internet and cell phones on which we can access virtually any information we may be looking to find; this is the world where my definition of distance learning has been shaped. Still today, distance learning can include methods such as the mail, videos, and the telephone, not only the computer and the internet.

The method for distance learning was not the only change that my definition had to undergo this week. When I considered distance learning before it was almost exclusively used for education in the higher education arena. However, we read three different articles this week that defined how distance education is also being used effectively in the K-12 and training and development areas. This should not have been a new part of my definition. In fact, in training and development, it should have been a major part of my definition as this is what I do in my work on a day to day basis, but it is not something I would have defined as distance learning before this week. I now see this differently. I now define distance education differently.

Based on my experience and my knowledge, including what I have learned in the past week, if you asked me today what my definition of distance education is I would say something like, “Distance education is a person gaining knowledge through a method of learning outside of a classroom using resources provided from an instructor who communicates through a variety of different means.” It is much broader. It is much more encompassing of not only my own experience but the experience of a much larger audience.

As my definition has changed based on what I now know about the history of distance learning, the future of distance learning must also be considered. Where is distance learning going? What does the future of distance learning look like? I am no expert in this field, and I do not own a crystal ball. However, having seen computers go from a flashing green cursor on a black screen only 20 years ago to a tablet that can now access the world wide web by just touching the screen, I would say that the future of distance learning has no limit. We are already able to take our courses from a cell phone, from anywhere at any time. As technology continues to advance so will the possibilities for distance education. The challenge will be in designing the instruction for the learning to meet the needs of all learners in these new formats. This is why being in the field of instructional design in the present is so exciting, because the future looks so bright!

Distance Learning Mind Map

 

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Fitting the Pieces Together

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory, but a theory without the opportunity for real-life implementation will soon fade away” (Blythe & Gardner, 1990). As I am coming to the end of my course on learning theories instruction at Walden University, I read this quote with different eyes than I might have when I first started. Theory has always been a word that left me with little to no emotion or excitement. However, as I studied learning theory over the past month and a half, I have actually found myself excited at the prospect of, not just studying theory, but having the opportunity to implement it in real life.

When I first began this course and was asked which theories were most in line with how I learn, I pointed to the cognitive and constructivist theories. In the seven weeks since that time, after studying multiple learning theories, I would still agree that I learn through a cognitive and constructivist view. However, I would also have to include a connectivist and adult learning theory approaches.

I connect with the cognitivist theory as I believe that, for myself, it is extremely important to understand how I am learning just as much as what I am learning. Using metacognitive strategies is something I do regularly to check my comprehension of information. Before this course I did not have a name or definition for what I was doing, but this is something that I now understand as not just a concept that helps me to learn better, but one that needs to be brought to light with the learners I work with to help them to be more effective in their learning as well. Bransford and Donovan (2005) gave three principles of learning that are particularly important for teachers to understand and be able to incorporate in their teaching, the third of these three principles is that “a metacognitive approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.” (p.2) This is true for me and for the learners I work with, and thus I believe the cognitive theory is in line with the way I learn best.

The constructivist theory is one that I connected with immediately when reading and learning about its basis. I think this stems from the fact that I grew up in an environment that required me to learn to do things on my own. My parents worked hard and were not always there to guide me in my learning. This meant I was constantly learning from watching others and applying what I observed. The social constructivist theory specifically stood out as how I have learned many skills in my personal life. I also described in my original post for this course that the constructivist theory is the theory that best describes my learning of instructional design before entering the Master’s program. I learned from observation of others and observation of design. I was put into the environment and learned by doing the work. Through this observation and practice I developed my understanding and beliefs about the field.

In adding to my original post, I would also include the connectivist theory approach as being in line with the way I learn best. This learning “theory for the digital age, where individuals learn and work in a networked environment” (Anderson, 2008) is one that makes sense in my world. As an instructional designer that has worked in a building where I am the only person doing what I do, the only way to learn is to connect to the network of instructional designers and information on the internet and social networking. I learn so much about the new trends and information of instructional design through these avenues, and now through my courses at Walden. I have a network of other students that I discuss the issues of the current world of instructional design on a weekly basis. This theory, though it has a lot of push back, holds validity in how I learn. And I think it also must be considered with the current generation of students that we work with as well.

And the final learning theory I want to speak of my connection with is the adult learning theory. Not only because I am an adult, but because of the basic principles of the theory, I think this is one that falls in line with the way I learn. I am a self-directed learner who wants to be involved in the planning and evaluation of my learning. I need to be able to apply what I am learning in my life and learn from my experiences with that application. I prefer to learn through a problem-centered learning environment rather than a content-oriented one. (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2002) I also find that in being an instructional designer in the corporate world that these principles are key to being successful in my day-to-day work.

Lastly, I want to touch on how technology plays a role in my learning. On a daily basis, I probably use a search engine of some type, Google, Bing, etc., an average of 3-5 times a day. When I am looking for a new way to put people into groups, a new format to develop a lesson, or a new animation action in Power Point, I go to the internet. I have an iPhone and apps that help me to know the weather, my class grades, and keep up with my favorite internet sites. There is no end to the use of technology in my learning. When I think back to how learning occurred only 5 years ago, it is amazing the changes! With my knowledge of learning theories and the access to technology to aid in my continuous improvement, I hope to be able to always stay abreast of the latest trends and be the best that I can be in my field.

References:

Anderson, T. (2008) The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Edmonton, AB: AU Press

Blythe, T. & Gardner, H. (1990) A school for all intelligences. Educational Leadership.47(7), 33-37

Bransford, J. D. & Donovan, S. M., (2005). How students learn: History in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.11100.html

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Adult_Learning

Must View! Must Read! Check These Out!

Rendering of human brain.

Rendering of human brain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week in my Learning Theories Instruction course we are looking at the topic of brain research and how it relates to learning. As I researched this topic I found a number of different resources that were helpful, including a number of blogs. I want to take a moment here and list a few of the professional resources, websites and journals, that I found most beneficial in my understanding of the topics this week in hope that they will benefit you as well!

Johns Hopkins University School of Education: New Horizons for Learning

http://www.newhorizons.org

This website is a resource for many educational topics. You can access the New Horizons for Learning Journal that the school publishes electronically at no cost from the site. Concerning the specific topic of the brain and learning they have an entire section of the New Horizons site that is about Neurosciences. On this page you can find articles, recommended readings and additional websites that focus on the topic. In my view, any site that will give not only the information they teach but also resources for you to do your own research is one that can be invaluable.

Brain Connection

www.brainconnection.com

This site provides a variety of different resources concerning the brain and learning. In the Education Connection page you can find specific articles that focus on how brain research is affecting education. Or, you can search their library for articles concerning different topics such as learning and memory, thinking and problem solving, and learning and behavior in the classroom. They have a link to reviews on books and websites on the study of the brain. There is a blog on the study of brain plasticity that has blog posts relating to learning and problem solving. You can also access games and brain teasers which are meant to challenge the brain and keep it active. The numerous resources found here make this site one to visit!

New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education; Summer2006, Issue 110

This entire edition of this journal focuses on the neuroscience of adult learning. Starting with James Zull writing about how the brain learns, then Louis Cozolino and Susan Sprokay look at the connection between neuroscience and adult learning. Bruce Perry then covers the topic of fear and learning. And finally, Colin Ross at brain self-repair and how it has implications on education. I enjoyed this resource as a whole because it didn’t just focus on brain theory and learning as a general topic but focused in on how it affects the learning of adult learners. I accessed the journal through the Walden Library and would recommend it to anyone who works with adult learners.

Sprenger, M. (1999). Learning and memory: the brain in action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

The final resource I would recommend on this topic of brain development and learning is a book that I also found through the Walden Library. This book takes this topic and makes it easy to understand through illustrations and examples that bring them to life. Literally, as I was reading this book, I found myself relating to the stories in a way that I understood the topic more clearly. Sprenger starts with a breakdown of the brain and how it works. She goes on to talk about how our memory works within our brain and then finally gives some specific examples of how understanding the brain can help to create effective instructional strategies. Of all of the resources I found through my research this week, this was one of the most beneficial to my learning.

“The only evidence we have of learning is memory” (Sprenger, 1999). This being true, I hope that these resources will help you to not only learn about the brain and how it effects learning but that you can make it connect with your world and experience so that it becomes a part of your memory. And as these fascinating concepts become part of your memory and your thinking, as I hope they do in mine as well, I hope to see them start to change how we view the way we work as instructional designers.

Let me know what you think of these resources if you get a chance to check them out!

Amanda

Blogs I Follow

“Thousands of accomplished educators are now writing blogs about teaching and learning, bringing transparency to both the art and the science of their practice… And all of this collective knowledge is readily available for free” (Ferriter, 2009). What an incredible truth! I am so excited to begin participating in this knowledge field – both to contribute through my own blog, The Arch of Learning, and to start taking advantage of all of the resources available to me.

As I started doing some research for l blogs to follow in the field of Instructional Design, I found there are a lot to choose from. I have chosen to follow a number of blogs, but I wanted to share three of them here and give a brief description of each one and how I feel they can give me an advantage and help me to be the best in my place in the instructional design world.

The first blog site is The Learning Circuits Blog. This is a blog that is a community feature of Learning Circuits which is a newsletter from ASTD. The site allows anyone in the training and development field to share ideas and opinions about the state of learning and technology. Anyone can post on the blog and comment on the blogs posted. The latest blog post “Face Up To It: Are You the CBT Lady?” had me laughing as I have had similar experiences as the ones described in the blog. As I perused the other blog posts I knew I would have to follow this one. It has relevant information to the field and will give multiple viewpoints as it is an open forum as opposed to being just one author. I also like the idea of being able to post on the blog itself. Maybe one day I will get my confidence to the point of feeling I can do so!

The second blog I would like to share is online learning insights. This blog is authored by Debbie Morrison. I was drawn to this blog because of the content, focusing on online learning as well as the volume, as Debbie seems to post to her blog on a regular basis. The topics of her blogs drew me in and made me think more about online learning in my world. I like that Debbie is an instructional designer in a world much like mine. It makes me feel as though I could not only learn from what she has to say but that I can also contribute to the conversation.

The final blog I will list here is Allison Rossett. The name of the blog is the same as the author. She is a consultant in training and technology-based performance. I am immediately drawn to her because I would like to have this title myself one day. She also has an impressive list of credentials and experience. I feel as though I can learn a lot from Allison about the field of instructional design and this is why I am following her blog. Her most recent blog post “Consulting with executives to turn technology investments into results” drew me in right away! This is a topic, ROI, that is important in the field of Training and Development. The topics covered in the blog are varied throughout the T&D field and how it can be made more effective. This will definitely be one worth following!

There are a large number of other blog sites that I have bookmarked and started following. I feel as though I will find which ones will be most relevant to me in the coming weeks as I check in with my Google Reader. I will keep you posted. 🙂

References:

Ferriter, B. (2009). Learning with blogs and wikis. Educational Leadership, 66(5), 34–38.

Hello World!

Writing the first post is harder than any other I would imagine. I feel the pressure to make it interesting and entertaining since that is what I promise in my introduction of myself. I sure hope I can deliver. 🙂

I am starting this blog as an assignment for a class I am taking at Walden University where I am pursuing my Masters Degree in Instructional Design and Technology. I have always wanted to start a blog, and this is great motivation to do so! That being said, my posts here will sometimes be school assignments pertaining directly to my field of instructional design and technology. I love the work that I do and hope that I may be able to offer up some experience, knowledge, or just my two cents and that it might be helpful, or at least entertaining, to those who may come across it.

So, welcome to my page. I am glad you have come to share this journey with me! I sure hope its a wild ride!