Saturday, November 6, 2010

Defining Distance Learning

Background

       It has been an eye opener to realize that distance learning originated in the early 19th century. The methods of delivery, over the years, have essentially utilized the most prevalent and advanced communication methods of the times. For example, in the late 1800’s, “correspondence courses” were available through the U.S. mail, America’s primary means of communication. The availability of these courses greatly impacted our society and our culture. It provided women an avenue for advancing their knowledge and education at a time when most women were expected to stay at home and care for their families. This initial form of distance learning, through home study, allowed women to raise their families and care for their husbands needs; all while acquiring knowledge and attaining higher levels of learning and education. Distance learning has had a powerful socio-political impact on our country. Particularly for those who have, historically, been considered second class citizens. 

       Today, distance education continues to evolve in step with our technological advancements. This includes the development and accessibility of the internet, the telecommunications networks on which it is built, the availability and greater affordability of personal computers and software programs. All of these elements have become more available and accessible to those living in more economically advanced countries. Of course, “availability does not necessarily ensure accessibility.” (Ng, 2010). Domestically and globally, economic conditions can still negatively impact individuals and communities living with diminished financial resources and economies.

What is Distance Learning?

    Distance Learning Today
       There are four main components to the definition of distance education. Distance education is institutionally based; the teacher and learner are separated; it is distributed through interactive telecommunications technologies; and last, the learning experience is shared via data, voice and video. (Simonson, et. al., 2009). From a practical standpoint, this means that with technology as its foundation, learning institutions can bring geographically dispersed teachers and students together to provide formal learning events and higher education.

        Just as was the case with the earliest correspondence courses of the late 1800’s, education is now available to those who might not otherwise have access. Today, accessibility is expanded beyond borders, time and space! Classes can be facilitated in either a synchronous (live/real time) or asynchronous (on the learners schedule) mode. (Simonson, et. al. 2009). Walden University is a perfect example of an institution utilizing telecommunications technologies to deliver asynchronous, higher learning between geographically separated teachers and students. They do a wonderful job of using a variety of formats to deliver content and resources. This includes data, voice and video. In addition, the graduate program that I am participating in guides students in using online tools to create, submit and share their work. Examples include free online services such as this blog, wikis, online mind mapping, online shareable bookmarking, course development and LMS launch sites. These online tools make sharing, across time and space, not only possible but convenient!

Benefits of Distance Learning

       If it were not for distance learning, I would not be able to attend graduate school at this time in my life. I have an incredibly demanding career and family demands that dictate my schedule. This often includes travel. I require the flexibility that an asynchronous program offers, to work around these demands to complete my studies. Regardless of time or space/location, I am able to access my classroom and my colleagues. Walden has made it easy for me to direct my own learning – in terms of exploration, research, self reflection – while working collaboratively with my fellow students through the use of discussion boards and online collaboration. I have learned that I get out of it, what I put into it. Distance learning may require a shift in our mindset from learning models that many of us grew up with. However, if a student is motivated, open, and willing to learn new ways of learning … there is nothing lost through distance learning and so much to be gained.

The Future of Distance Learning

My vision for the evolution of distance learning is that telecommunications bandwidth and equipment will become more and more affordable/accessible. (Simonson, 2010).  As we expand our comfort levels with the tools that are available today, we will utilize them more fully in the future. I also hope that we will expand our learning communities, globally. Distance learning provides such a phenomenal vehicle for expanding our world to include distant cultures and diverse perspectives.

References

Ng, K. (2010). Availability of technology does not ensure accessibility. Retrieved on 11/06/2010 from http://www.digitalopportunity.org/comments/availability-of-technology-does-not-ensure-accessibility

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson. Chapter 2, Definitions, History, and Theories of Distance Education.

Class multimedia resource: Distance learning timeline continuum. (2010). Walden University.

Video Program: Simonson, M. (2010). Distance education: The next generation. Walden University.
WebsiteInternational Council for Open and Distance Education... http://www.icde.org/

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