Defining Distance Learning

Posted: January 12, 2015 in Instructional Design

This week in Distance Learning, I have learned that the definition of distance learning has continued to evolve over the years.  The need for distance learning opportunities and advances in technology continue to grow.  Prior to this week, my understanding of distance learning is directly related to my educational and professional experiences as an online learner. However, I learned this week that “distance education is institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 32).  Prior to this week, I did not limit distance learning to being institution-based but included self-study in the definition as well.  Also, I thought distance education was a more recent idea in the field of education.  I was not aware that correspondence study, a 160 years old, was a distance education option carried out through the postal service (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 37).

In the education environment, I previously attended traditional face-to-face classes.   I was not familiar with the option to obtain an education as a distant learner.  However, in more recent years due to advances in technology, I decided to continue my education at Walden University and become a distant learner utilizing the option to achieve a M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology in an online environment.  This was the most viable and flexible option for me since I have to juggle work, family, and personal responsibilities.   Initially, I had to make adjustments in the online learning environment since students and instructors are separated and course work is completed remotely using the internet.  As a distance learner, I communicate with instructors and classmates utilizing computer-based communication such as email, discussion boards, blogs, and wikis.

In the professional environment, there is a growing demand for distance learning training in the business environment.  There is still a need for traditional face-to-face instruction, especially if complex material is being covered.  However, distance learning is becoming more popular due to the availability of technology and collaborative tools used within companies including web conferencing, wiki’s, webinars, blogs, email, CHAT/IM, videos, etc.

I have observed benefits and challenges with distance learning in the business environment.  Distance learning training allows the company to save significantly on travel expenses when online training opportunities are available.  According to Moller, Foshay, and Huett (2008), “the motivating factors for corporate e-learning are predominantly economic”.  In addition, the distance learning option offers employees with busy schedules flexibility in completing the training at their own pace.  However, there is a need for more effective evaluations and assessments to measure the success of the training including ROI and/or learning outcomes.  According to Moller, Foshay, and Huett (2008),  “evaluation of e-learning is necessary to demonstrate its worth, the need for better and more widely used evaluation models is critical to the future of e-learning”.

It is important for ID professionals who have the required training and background design e-learning modules as opposed to those who do not have the background. According to Huett, Moller, Foshay, and Coleman (2008), ID professionals can “partner with academic researchers to ensure that distance education initiatives truly serve the needs of students.  IDs should determine who should enroll in distance education offerings and promote designs that serve the targeted student population (Huett et al, 2008, p. 64).

The demand for distance learning will continue to grow in the education and business setting.  As and instructional designer, my goal is to improve learning in the business environment.    When designing learning experiences in this environment, I would have to consider the rapidly changing business environments.  Since clients in corporate environments are so diverse, it is important to get an understanding of their different learning styles and needs.  Designing/developing effective online and eLearning training courses is important since distance learning is a growing trend in corporations.  In addition, new methodologies are needed in the ID field that will integrate electronic performance support systems (EPSS), knowledge management (KM), and training components, which will take the new approach to needs assessment and ROI evaluation (Moller, Foshay, & Huett , 2008).

Mind Map of Distance Learning Definition

distance_learning_mind_map

References

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67. doi:10.1007/s11528-008-0199-9

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75. doi:10.1007/s11528-008-0158-5

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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Comments
  1. Dear Farida,
    It is a great and comprehensive post and I just hang on your lips. The idea that resonated with me most of all was that face-to-face instruction is and will be necessary, although I tend to believe it is more popular with people under 25 than with the 25+ age-group, i.e. those who have clearer career, professional, and personal goals. Face-to-face is a better option for the less-motivated to learn, and those who have not yet developed meta-cognitive skills. For me, distance learning has been the better choice since I was 17, when I understood that learning outcomes depend on my own effort and if I persisted I could teach myself anything. The “I need someone to explain it to me” voices that I often hear mostly mean to me “I am much too lazy to figure it out for myself”: nothing is impossible for a willing heart!
    Thank you for sharing your ideas,
    Marina

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