Perceptions of Distance Learning

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The thought of learning at a distance back in the early years had faced a lot of skepticism. Distance learning courses were once perceived as being diploma mills with no classrooms, untrained or nonexistent faculties and unqualified administrators with profit as their primary motivation (Simonson, 2004). As a college student back in the 1990s, I found comfort being in a classroom with students like me that I could collaborate with and having a professor that was accessible if there were questions. Also, it was extremely critical that the efforts I made to improve myself at an accredited institution paid off when I graduated. The thought of enrolling in an online course during that time seemed more like a waste of time and money as they did not leave the impression that they had my interest in mind and were more concerned with what was in my wallet. I believe that perception, shared by many, has greatly changed over the years due to transparency. The most important form of accreditation involves transparency of a school or college’s entire program by an outside evaluator at a regional accrediting agency (Simonson et al., 2015, p.18).

With the growing acceptance and accreditation of distance education, enrollment in online courses reach over 6.7 million students in 2013 (Simonson et al., 2015, p.4) Dr. Siemens, in the video The Future of Distance Learning, believes that this increase is fueled by online communication, practical experience with new tools that can be used for interaction, growing comfort with the online environment while realizing we don’t need to be in the same place in order to learn as well as a critical aspect in the ability to communicate with diverse and global groups that are not confined to a classroom (Laureate Education, n.d.).

Clayton Christensen (2003) has stated that distance education has come to “dominate…by filling a role…that the older technology could not fill” (Simonson et al., 2015, p.11). The possibility of teaching face-to-face at a distance was achieved during the 1980s with the introduction of broadband technologies that allowed for interactive learning, rather than being taught passively (Keegan, 1996). Enrollment in online courses for many institutions during 2013 saw growth that exceeded over 6.7 million students (Simonson et al., 2015, p.4). In 2009, the United States Department of Education published a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies that concluded that online learning students achieved better than traditional students because they tended to allocate more time to their studies (Simonson et al., 2015, p.7). Simonson, Schlosser, and Orellana (2011, p.139) argued that research clearly showed that distance education is an effective method for teaching and learning (Simonson et al., 2015, p.7). So with this information, what would the future of distance education look like?

As Dr. Siemen pointed out, there is a practical use for new tools that can be used for interaction. When I was in school, the technology I used to communicated with involved email or the telephone. Now a days, technology allows you to communicate in multiple ways that include Google Hangouts, social media, online whiteboard apps, texting as well as Face Time, just to name a few. Jim Finn (1964) and Richard Clark (1983) argued that technologies themselves do not cause change, but rather changes occur because of new ways of doing things that are enabled by technologies (Simonson,  Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015, p.13). It is clear that the ability to interact and communicate with others online is critical toward building a learning community. With the growing acceptance of online learning, distance learning of the future could be rich with tools that allow for communication to occur as though everyone was in the same room together in a virtual environment. Perhaps, reinventing Google Glass for education where students are in a classroom together as avatars or a version of their true self and are able to work on a problem together, build an engine or operate on a patient. Despite the innovations brought forth by technology, there will still be some that have their reservations about the effectiveness of distance learning.

A point to consider regarding distance education today is that Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland (2005) stated that it is more probable to find students from a variety of locations participating in an online class that will be mainly comprised of young learners (Simonson et al., 2015, p.191). In 2001, Marc Prensky used the term digital native to describe those born into the digital age that naturally use technology and described those that adopted technology later in life as a digital immigrant (Gundogan & Eby, 2012). The way we do things can be changed dramatically by the application of technology. In less than 10 years after I received my undergraduate degree and had the perception that online classes were a waste of time, over 6.7 million students found value in distance learning. Eventually, skeptics that adopted technology later in life will disappear and in the future the main audience for distance education will be digital natives that grew up with technology and are able to quickly embrace the next big thing online that will give them a competitive advantage in the job market. As an instructional designer, I have always considered myself to be a life-long learner in the technology field and after 20+ years, I am continuing to grow with the changing times. It is extremely exciting to think about the possibilities that lie ahead and having a passion for technology, I will continue to carry my soapbox, present at technology conferences, learn through online resources such as MOOCs and model the proper use of innovative technology for all that come into my digital world.

References

Gundogan, M. B., & Eby, G. (2012). A Green Touch for the Future of Distance Education. Online Submission,”

Keegan, D. (1996). Foundations of Distance Education. London: Routledge. Print.

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). The future of distance education [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

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A growing consideration for many companies is to transition their traditional face-to-face training sessions into an online format. With online courses becoming such an integral part of education, in 2013, Huss, Sela & Eastep (2015) reported the total number of students in the United States taking at least one online course had risen to 7.1 million, which proportionally is 33.5% of all higher education students (Allen & Seaman, 2014). A first impulse could lead someone to see what courses could be easily converted into an online environment (Minnaar, 2013). However, before doing that, there are some strategies to consider first.

Most people that have been teaching face-to-face courses usually don’t have any formal experience in developing an online course. As a result, this can lead most to adopt a “craft approach” in their eLearning initiatives (Moller et al., 2008, p.67). Using the craft approach leads a teacher to fully design and develop an online course, along with related materials, based upon what worked for them in the traditional classroom (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). This would be a mistake as the learning management system your organization is likely to choose has features and tools that promote student interaction and communication that are different from the traditional classroom experience.

Click here to learn more…Converting to a Distance Learning Format

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses and are aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. I found interest in a site offering MOOC courses called Coursera. Coursera was founded in 2012 and as of May, 2015 had over 1000 courses from 119 institutions and over 13 million users (Coursera, 2015). I chose the course called Smartphone Emerging Technologies. I experienced no issues starting the course. As the course began, it prompted me to create an account with a user name and password and after I submitted, the course continued from where it left off. I found the video very engaging as the lesson started off with an overview of the course with the instructor presenting in frame on the left side of the green screen slide as text would populate to his right. The main page of the course listed the different sections or modules to be completed along with sub-topics for each and showed the completion progress as I went along. After the overview, the course syllabus was presented in a text format with hyperlinks for additional reading. The syllabus included prerequisites, course goals and objectives, links to course materials, the course outline, a description of the course elements such as lecture videos, in-video questions, quizzes, readings as well as information on the peer assessed capstone project. Even though the course is free to take for your own personal enrichment, if you wanted to receive credit and proof of completion for college credit or for employer purposes, a verified certificate is available for a fee. In each module I completed, there were assessment questions, a review and a list of references for further reading as an option. This self-paced asynchronous course was designed to be taken by any student, in any place pursuing education in a different-time, different-place (DT-DP) scenario as describe by Dan Coldeway from South Dakota State University (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 9). With the abundant number of institutions that are partnering with Coursera, this asynchronous course could also be a blended or hybrid course for students at the institution’s campus for supplemental learning along with the face-to-face instruction (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 106-107). What I enjoyed most about the course was seeing the instructor in the video presenting. Keegan (1996) noted that distance education must offer “the provision of two-way communication so that the student may benefit from or even initiate dialog” (p. 44). This gave me more of a “connected” feeling to the information being presented and to the instructor that offered a means of communicating with him regarding content or advances in the field what would prompt an update to what was being presented. Overall, I enjoyed the instruction and felt it was a well-designed student-centered course.

References

Corsera. (2015). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coursera

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.)