Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Definition of Distance Education

Before the start of this course, I never really gave much thought to distance learning and what it means. My experience of distance learning involves online coursework, with an asynchronous design. The instructor is in a separate location from the students and learning activities are student centered.  Communication between peers and instructor occurs through discussion formats, online chat rooms, and email correspondence. Although I have not experienced it myself, I am aware that online courses can provide synchronous learning activities in the form of video conferencing and other two way formats. So based on my experience and observations, I would define distance learning as; a learning process that occurs through multimedia formats in an asynchronous or synchronous setting.
Since the start of this course I’ve learned that distance learning has existed since the early 1800’s. At that time distance learning occurred between instructor and student in the form of telegraph correspondence.  By the 1950’s broadcast television was used to offer college credits. Fiber optic communication in the 1980’s-90’s, allowed for two way communications to occur and made distance education interactive for the first time. The advancements of computer technology and the introduction of the World Wide Web, brings us where we are today with the highly demanded online courses, available for students of varying needs. 
Many theorists have proposed various theories in an effort to describe and define distance learning. Both Holmberg and Keegan suggested a need for a theoretical foundation for distance learning in order to provide a “touchstone against which decisions could be made with confidence” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009). At the core, most theorists seem to agree on the basics; that there is a separation between instructor and student, learning can occur synchronously or asynchronously, communication and learning content is delivered through one or more media outlets. Keegan goes on to classify the theories of distance education into three groups; 1) Independence and autonomy 2) industrialization of teaching and 3) interaction and communication (Simonson et al, 2009).
Dr. Michael Simonson defines distance education as; “formal education that is institutionally based, where the learning group; the teacher, the students and the resources, are separated not only by geography and sometimes by time and sometimes by intellect. Communication technology, instruction technologies and media technologies are used to link the resources, the teacher and the student”.
 Revision of My Definition
Distance learning is an ever-evolving system of formal education and training that seeks to bridge the learning process between the instructor and the learner while participating in different locations during asynchronous or synchronous settings.  Distance learning is delivered through multimedia formats which meets the individual needs of the learner and encourages autonomy among the instructors and learners. It is learner driven with emphasis placed on community learning and shared knowledge.
My Vision of the Future of Distance Education
I believe distance learning will become the primary mode for providing education for our population in the near future. Its cost effectiveness has attracted the attention of most local and state officials as they seek to reduce the education budget, not to mention a viable option to address teacher shortage and class size restrictions.  Due to the social trends and consumer interests in technology tools and software, distance learning is easily accessible and highly sought after for its convenience of use. The youth of today are technology ready and eager to learn with technology tools.  Workforce trend and needs will continue to require access to immediate training programs for its employees.  Therefore we will continue to see “exponential growth” in the field of distance education and will see the use of distance education technologies almost across the board in k-12 education, higher education, and in the training and learning environments” (Distance of Education: The next generation –podcast). Not only will we see this growth take place across settings on a national level, but the continued expansion in technology education will occur globally. Dr. Patrick Dixon said it best when he suggested that the future of distance education is in the hands of the student, as we seek to build long lasting relationships across the globe.
Dixon, P. (2008) Future of education: High school and college educational trends; preparing
students for life. Retrieved from
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a
 distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson
Simonson, M. (n.d.) Distance education: The next generation. Laureate Media Inc.

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View Patrick Dixon's presentation on the Future of Distance Learning

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