Reflections on Distance Education
Distance education continues to be a viable alternative for those adult learners who seek learning environments that are flexible, engaging, convenient and able to meet their learning needs. Increasing workforce demands and fluctuating economies are placing emphasis on continued education requirements on the adult learner to promote and maintain successful innovations in their field. These driving forces have given rise to an adult population of learners who are self-motivated, organized and self-directed in their learning. These characteristics have led to successful distance learning among those learners of varying ages. Distance learning is not meant for all and there are some who might even believe that distance learning is not valued or equal in quality compared to traditional learning environments. Then there are those that believe distance learning is the next wave in the future of education.
There is a growing trend of acceptance in regards to distance education. Enrollment for online university courses has drastically risen and “has out distanced all other forms of distance learning” over the last few years (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). Technology tools and courseware management programs have enhanced student communication and interactivity in such a way that the “distance” aspect appears to have minimum effect on student achievement. In ten years online courses will rely more on web based tools such as blogs to support the delivery of content. Bill Gates has gone so far to say that “five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” and brick and motor colleges will be less relevant. It is possible that twenty years from now, distance learning will be termed virtual learning. Schroeder (2007) believes that virtual environments will ultimately replace the World Wide Web (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2009).
In 5 to 10 years I expect text book learning in the K-12 setting to be drastically reduced due to the utilization of technology tools such as I pads and electronic book nooks. My own child will be attending the only high school in Lake County, Florida that is providing all of their high school students with I pads. During Lake Minneola High’s welcome back orientation, Principal Shepherd emphasized the push towards being innovative on both the teaching and learning fronts. She believes that students of today are technology driven and that drive will continue to shape our future. Shepherd said she fought to bring the technology to her school because she wanted her students to be better prepared for the business world (Shepherd, 2011). Depending upon Lake Minneola’s success and other successful school pilots who are integrating technology into their curriculum, I expect to see K-12 learning environments moving towards a blended learning curriculum, giving virtual schools some competition in the next ten to twenty years.
University leaders and stakeholders are concerned with providing quality distance programs that are equivalent to the standards, professionalism and reputational brand of their campus based environment (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). As an instructional designer I am obligated to ensure that distance programs speak to the integrity and fidelity of distance learning. To improve societal perceptions, instructional designs should continue to develop designs that speak to the needs of the learners, while meeting the objectives of the learning content. As an ID I can do this by using effective pre-planning and careful analysis. I believe that a systematic approach such as the ADDIE process is always best practice when it comes to design. The first principle of design is to recognize that distance education is a system that requires a systematic process that applies research-based principles to education practice (Simonson et al, 2009). The goal is to avoid simply dumping content onto online formats; this approach will almost guarantee a negative perception among potential learners.
There are several things I can do to be a positive force for continued improvement in the field of distance education. By using my current status as an elementary teacher, I will continue to strive to be an active model or mentor teacher who incorporates technology with the classroom. I plan to share what I am learning from my Walden experience with by continuing to collaborate with coworkers on technology needs. During this school year I have set aside time to plan with the gifted teacher, who is willing to participate in class to class collaborations through Edmodo and Moodle. Our goal is to improve the students’ critical thinking skills through creative collaboration. On a professional level we would like to share this experience with other classroom teachers as a way to inspire the continued use of technology within the classroom setting.
Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html
Shepherd, L. (18, August, 2011). Live orientation presentation for Lake Minneola High. http://lake.k12.fl.us/lmh/site/default.asp
Siegler, M.G. (2010). Bill Gates: In five years the best education will come from the web. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/06/bill-gates-education/
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.