Up Hill Climb For Distance Education


I believe distance education has been on an uphill climb to change the public perception about the quality of distance learning. Fortunately, I think that distance learning is just about to crest the mountain.


More professionals are embracing distance education; it’s becoming an essential educational tool in corporate training. It is a tool that is fairly new given the true scope of time. Yes it does have its skeptics, within K12 education community, higher education and corporate training. Skepticism is an essential part of the quality and improvement process. Skepticism forces us to answer our critics by employing acceptance standards, using best practices in instructional design, and continuing course evaluation. (Siemens, n.d).


As a resident of Washington state, I’ve seen some amazing technical innovations. But I’ll admit (somewhat shamefully) to an early belief that the internet wasn’t going to be all that great, that a company like Amazon which did not release dividends back to investors was probably not going to be there for the long haul. Clearly, my technological insight is lacking. I find it difficult to address the issue of where will distance learning be in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, in part because of the meteoric growth and changes to the industry. It’s obvious that the tools that were available ten years ago to instructional designers (email, video and audio conferences) have changed  dramatically in the last 5 years (Web 2.0 tools, serious games, etc.) (Nash, 2005). We will certainly be using more mobile apps as training tools, and increasingly sophisticated gaming/simulation software


A number of factors have been suggested as a method for improving perceptions towards distance learning. Clear professional practices have been discussed earlier and by Leven & Wadmany, (2006). Another factor to explore is the quality of the web-based tools used in distance education and the focus of the educational experience as a learner-led instructional environment. (Shain & Shelly, 2008).


Some of my peers have expressed a feeling of dismissal when they mention they are working towards a degree with an emphasis in online learning. I’ve found that I have the exact opposite reaction, at least within the professional community. Most of my peers faces light up and the general perception is “good for you.” Ultimately, I think it comes down to familiarity with distance learning. Those that have some exposure to it are more likely to have a positive impression. Those that haven’t experienced it need time and experience to validate or change their perception.


As I commented in my weekly discussion, perception of distance learning can be changed most effectively through internal stakeholders. I was pleased to see the acceptance rate of college presidents to distance learning — found 51% of college presidents stating that online courses provide the same value as traditional environments.  (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Slowly but surely the perceptions of distance learning are changing, as rapidly as the tools used to create distance learning evolves. I plan to be an active participant and use strong instructional design principles to be part of the process.




Allen,E. & Seaman, J. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States. 2010; Babson Survey Research Group: Sloan Consortium.


Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 216–223.Siemens, G. (n.d.).  The future of distance education [online video].  Retrieved August 18, 2013 from http:/waldenu.edu


Levin, T., & Wadmany, R. (2006). Listening to students’ voices on learning with information technologies in a rich technology-based classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 34 (3), 281-317.


Nash, Susan, S. (2005) Learning objects, learning object repositories and learning theory: Preliminary best practices for online courses. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects. (1), 217-228.


Sahin, I., & Shelley, M. (2008). Considering Students’ Perceptions: The Distance Education Student Satisfaction Model. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 216–223.


Love is in the Air ….

My Distance Education class at Walden is discussing the following scenario for this week’s assignment:zcool-Heart 2

A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.

Our assignment is to reflect on this scenario and offer some suggestions.

The part of this scenario that caught my attention was the statement “…the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format.” This statement is an indicator of what happens all too often in training and HR – someone falls in love with a training strategy and decides everything must change, to incorporate this new strategy. I’ve worked in organizations that decreed All training will be…on-the-job training, self-paced training, use a wacky set of adult learning multiple intelligences, etc. To me, these decrees make as much sense as saying “All training will be conducted on bucking broncos” or “All learners will wear Star Trek t-shirts.” There is no one-fit answer to all training.

But, that’s the challenge instructional designers face, trying to balance the “let’s change everything” directives with the needs of the learners and the training objectives. And just for clarity, I like blended learning. Some of my best friends are blended-learning designers.

Given this situation, what factors should be considered when changing training programs? Again, I’m such a concrete literal thinker that I’m a bit stymied by the scenario. There’s not a lot of information. So I’m going to “Kobayashi Maru” the scenario a bit (Google it). I’m going to apply details from a training course that my organization is currently using and contemplating changing to blended learning. I’ll still try to use the information from the original scenario, but with just a bit more detail:

This training is held annually in Thailand and covers 5 days. The participants are upper level finance staff from various national offices. The training is scenario based with presentations by executive staff throughout the week. These executive staff members also play the role of SMEs for answering questions during the scenarios.

So, back to the scenario analysis – our focus in the scenario(s) is on:

  • What pre-planning strategies need to be considered?
  • What aspect of the original training could be enhanced in the distance learning format?
  • How will his role, as trainer change?
  • What steps are needed to encourage online leaners to communicate with other learners online?

A blended learning program combines online and face-to-face delivery, with 30% to 79% of the content delivered online (Allen & Seaman, 2010). In the article The Sloan-C Pillars and Boundary Objects in Framework for Evaluating Blended Learning, (Laumakis et al, 2008) discusses the Sloan-C Pillar and Boundary Object approach to evaluating the effectiveness of blended learning. While I’m not sure it’s ever smart to work backwards in instructional design, I do think these five pillars provide excellent criteria for evaluating whether the blended-learning strategy is appropriate, or at least elements to consider in the development of the program. The five pillars are:

1)     learning effectiveness

2)     access

3)     cost effectiveness

4)     student satisfaction

5)     faculty satisfaction.

I’m going to use a table to detail the strategies and analysis. I realize that this blog is already long, so I’m attaching the table in a PDF.  Evaluation blended

I do believe that blended learning is an exciting method of training. I think any shift from an Instructor-Centered Model to a Learning-Centered Model is a good thing. However “teaching with technology requires a new set of skills for most educators and learners.” (Simonson et al, 2012. p. 142). I think that this type of change needs to be carefully considered and evaluated by instructional designers and training professionals to make sure that educators and learners are ready for the move. Don’t pick a strategy and then try to make the learning work.


Allen, I. & Seaman, I. (2007). Making the grade: Online education in the United States. 2006; Midwestern edition. Wellesley, MA: Sloan Consortium.

Bonk, C. J., & Cunningham, D. J. (1998). Searching for learner-centered, constructivist, and socio-cultural components of collaborative educational learning tools. In C. J. Bonk & K. S. King

George, T. & Mcgee, M. K. Educational AdvantageInformation Week, March 10, 2003, pp. 57-58.

Laumakis M., Graham C., Dziuban, C., (2008). The Sloan-C pillars and boundary objects as a framework for evaluating blended learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 13(1) pp.75-87

Naaj, M., Nachouki, M., Ankit A.,(2012) Evaluating student satisfaction with blended learning in a gender-segregated environment. Journal of Information Technology Education. 11. pp. 185-200.

Napier, N., Dekhane S., Smith, S., (2011). Transitioning to blended learning: understanding student and faculty perceptions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 15(1).pp. 20-32.

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

Exploring the Great Unknown

My assignment for this week’s blog is to select a course from a free Open Course site. I’m especially excited to review Open Course content. I’m amazed that there is so much educational content available throughout the internet. But the question is always how effective


are these learning experiences? Do open course educational systems provide the same quality education as traditional “pay-for-play” educational systems?

For this assignment, I selected an Art History course through Khan Academy. Khan Academy lists its mission as “We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”(Khan Academy, n.d.)

The link for the course I selected is:


For the purpose of this overview, I reviewed the general Art History overview then focused on one of the specific time periods for additional exploration.  I choose to explore the Industrial Revolution period (1848-1907) or the Pre-Raphaelite period.

Zemesky and Massy noted four distinct adoption cycles for e-learning (Simonson et al, 2011):

Cycle 1: Enhancement to traditional course/program configurations – uses basic level technologies (email, web, PowerPoint) without dramatically changing instructional strategies.

Cycle 2: Course Management Systems (CMS): Use of a SMS to offer course resources and activities in an online format.

Cycle 3: Imported course objects: Embedding electronic learning objects (photographic, slides, audio and video, animations) into a course.

Cycle 4: New course/program configuration: Course is reconceptionalized to take full advantage of technology and the Internet.

Using these definitions of e-learning cycles, I would say that Khan Academy is solidly in Cycle 3. The site seems to rely on the Linear-designed instruction model (Simonson et al, 2011). From my review, it seems that courses use the following components:

Text based course content

The course content is delivered through a text presentation. It’s easy to surmise that much of the content was in fact taken from a previous Art History text book and repurposed for e-learning. Still, there are some things Khan Academy does well and some real room for improvement.

The text content is divided into manageable “chunks” and arranged by topic. There is a navigable time line that allows learners to explore the text content and the individual lessons.  Each topic includes a brief introduction and a “why study this…” explanation.

There are no learning outcomes or objectives included with the lesson.

Video lessons

Videos are the main component of Khan Academy. In fact, the site currently advertises that it offers over 4,500 videos on a wide range of topics. The videos for this particular class involved length discussions over individual paintings. The narrators discussed the history of the painting, the cultural and historical implications of the artist’s country and background, the many ways individual parts of the paintings can be interpreted.  The video was extremely well-done, with high quality content and an insightful discussion.

Although I give the video high marks for the presentation and the content, I feel like it misses the mark. While I realize that Khan Academy is built on the premise of offering video lectures, I believe offering videos only makes the content too linear. As Simonson et al state, one of the fundamentals of on-line learning is to “integrate the power of the web into the course” (Simonson et al, 2011, p. 136). Students can certainly listen to a discussion of history and culture related to a painting, but they could also use a variety of tools to exp

lore on the web and learn more about history and culture on their own.  As Beldarrain states “Educational institutions must reflect on how their distance education program currently utilizes technology” (Beldarrain, 2006, p. 144).  The existing content misses an opportunity to provide links, allow exploration and involve the learner.

In addition, the video does an excellent job of looking at individual parts of the painting and discussing those parts and what they mean to the overall painting. Again, this could have engaged the learner far more effectively if it allowed the learner to select those parts of the painting to explore with links to video segments.  An example of an online site that allows this type of exploration is http://www.manchestergalleries.org/ford-madox-brown/fmb-page-one/

A final word about the videos included at Khan Academy: while Khan Academy is providing some excellent videos for courses, the site is also widely criticized for its video inaccuracies and mistakes. In fact, a recent review of Khan videos has prompted a YouTube spoof based on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hC0MV843_Ng).


Each course seems to have some time of question review or assessment attached to the lesson. These assessments are often referred to as “Practice This Topic” rather than actual stated assessment, but it serves the same function.  Almost the entirety of these assessment questions could be described as the knowledge level of Bloom’s taxonomy (Simonson et al, 2011). Most questions encouraged the learner to recall from memory facts discussed in the text lecture.


My primary criticism of the Khan academy is few opportunities the learners have to engage with instructors or other learners. The comment section at the end of each lesson does allow the learner to leave comments, which may or may not be answered by the instructor or other learners.

These comments are hardly robust discussions. I believe a separate discussion area with questions proposed by the instructor would yield a far more interesting experience for the learner and the instructor.

Ultimately, I found the Khan Academy course to be adequately designed. It could be substantially improved if an effort was made to engage the learner in active learning. In my opinion, this site’s downfall is the reliance of one type of media (videos) to provide the bulk of the learning experience.  Our text quotes Peters (1998) as stating that those who believe a new, digital media will “supply the interactivity and communication lacking in distance education… cherish a hope here that will prove to be serious self-delusion” (Simonson et al, 2011, p. 175). With some effort and redesign, Khan Academy could provide an incredibly rich and engaging learning experience.


Baldarrain, Y. (2006), Distance Education Trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration,Distance Education, 27(2) 139-153


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