Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 1 - A New Course – A New Learning Experience -- Defining Distance Education

This week we investigated the history and definition of distance education. Prior to this week, had someone asked me my definition of distance education, I would have said something like “learning that occurs away from the instructor using the internet as the learning modality”. It is interesting to me that although I am very aware of correspondence courses, and instruction utilizing satellite television, or even radio, my definition would not have included these types of instruction, quite simply because today these methods seem outdated to me. As our resources state this week distance learning has evolved and therefore how one defines it will likely evolve as well. Someone who has little or no access to advanced technology or the internet would likely define distance education differently than me. My primary experience with distance education is through my courses with Walden University in pursuit of my master’s degree.

This week my definition of distance education has grown a bit. Our text, Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education, by Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, defines distance learning as “an institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunication systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors" (pg. 32). Important to this definition, are two distinctions I would add to my definition; institution-based and instructors. The addition of these two distinctions differentiates distance education from self-study. My earlier definition left room for self-study to be included in the definition of distance education. Although self-study is important and valid, self-study is neither formal, nor measurable and leaves room for misinformation, whereas formal education is more purposeful and allows for a depth of study with acknowledged and accepted certifications and degrees. So my definition after this week would be something much like the definition provided by Simonson, et al. Perhaps something more like “Institution-based, formal education where the instructor and student are separated, and the internet or other communications technology is used as a learning modality to connect the student, instructor and resources”.

I think it is important to mention, that within my "new" definition of Distance Education, both synchronous and asynchronous learning are included. I think synchronous learning, same-time, different-place instruction creates new avenues for people to participate in an educational format, yet not have to be at a specific place to obtain that education. This offers many people a level of flexibility to take courses that geographically would otherwise not be available to them. This is definitely an important advance in education beyond the traditional same time same place brick and mortar education. For me however, the real opportunity of further education lives in asynchronous learning through schools like Walden University. Asynchronous Learning has opened doors for me that otherwise would have been closed or at least would have presented as substantial barriers. The fact that I can log into a classroom, read the work of my classmates, provide my own insights and receive feedback that potentially challenges me to think further, all at a time that works in my schedule, is incredibly exciting. For me, my motivation to learn and contribute my learning to others has elevated considerably since my brick and mortar classroom days.

The future of distance education lives in both the advances in technology that occur and the advancement of the instructional design field. Huett, Moller, Foshay & Coleman (2008) state “what we are witnessing with the current evolution of distance education and the technologies that support it is nothing less than the single most important reorganization of how we will engage learners since we started to gather students together in school buildings” (p. 65). They further state that “if schools are going to make a commitment to deliver education in this format (distance education), it will require a restructuring of how they do business necessitating the hiring of distance educational instructional designers” (pg. 66). The opportunity for instructional designers is to bring a needed awareness of sound instructional design principles to the design of distance education.


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.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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