Distance learning through the haze.

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When I was young the only distance learning program was correspondence courses. These classes were looked upon with a certain amount of derision. In fact, the ads like the one on the left were the butt of frequent comic acts.

In the ’90s, I started working as an Instructional Designer. The company I worked for implemented a huge training program with self-directed learning materials. We thought we were cutting edge, simply mailing out materials (workbooks) and end-of-course quizzes, and receiving them back from the learner to grade by hand.

In the late ’90s I took a class on developing computer-based instruction at the local, highly respected university. This class was a graduate level class with many education grad students. These students were skeptical of computer-based instruction. In fact, we student suggested that computer-based instruction was best used in preparing an individual for a career at McDonalds.

We’ve come a long way from those days. Even ten years ago, distance learning was not regarded as mainstream learning methodology for most credible universities. It’s the institutions like Walden University and DeVry that forced local universities to build a distance learning as a credible option.

My definition of distance learning is changing as I review my course readings. I’ve always focused on the “distance” part of the process, and assumed any program that is offered over a distance qualifies. My definition from this week has shifted as I focus on the engagement between the learner and instructor. I think this is the biggest challenge to overcome in distance learning.

I find distance learning to be essential in the organization I’m working with, World Vision. As stated in our course text “Well-designed programs could also bridge intellectual, cultural and social differences between students” (Schlosser & Simonson, 2009). Distance learning allows us to reach an audience of learners in over 60 countries scattered all over the world. Our biggest challenge is to develop distance learning that is conscious of cultural, social and language differences. Of course, technology (specifically internet connectivity) remains an on-going issue.

I’m looking forward to learning more about distance learning. I think that there’s more to the use of this learning methodology than merely adapting our previous classroom based materials to a WebEx. It will be a fascinating journey.

Please see the attached mind map.

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Resources:

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

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