Distance Learning Definitions are a Changin’

13 Jan

Prior to starting EDUC-6135, I viewed distance learning as a method of studying where class content was provided over the Internet in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous methods.  Though this definition is technically accurate, it is not precise enough to be completely correct.  Even after only one week of research, I realized that there were many facets of my definition that were omitted.

A true definition of distance education must include four characteristics.  First, distance education must be institutionally based.  It is not a self-study class but must be formalized through either a school or other organization like a business or company (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  Second, there needs to be some separation between a learner and the instructor as well as between the various learners.  This separation could be due to geographical differences and possibly time.  Students do not have to be in the same location and could be separated by great distances and time zones.  The asynchronous nature of the learning allows anyone from any location access to the same materials and resources at any time.

The acquisition of these materials and resources leads to the third criteria, interactive communications, which may be electronic or otherwise.  Communications are not limited to the internet but can still include standard postal mail.  Though the internet has improved the ability to interact, it is not the sole method.  Lastly, distance education is comprised of learning groups composed of students, teachers and the resources required.

A revised definition of distance learning would be formal instruction from an institution (school or business) that uses interactive communication to bridge the distance and time that separates the learning group, instructor and class resources.

The definition of distance learning is constantly changing due to the ever-increasing technological capabilities available (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b).  Not so far in the past, podcasts were the latest way to improve on the written blog.  Anyone who had a simple microphone and some free software could post an audio file that someone could listen to at their leisure.  As bandwidth and transfer speeds have increased, video-casts are more and more prevalent.  Social media has exploded in recent years, evolving from simple blogs to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others.  Smartphones have the capacity to connect to the internet and post updates to all of these social media sites, providing for a method of real-time updates of news and events worldwide (Cohen, 2012).

The future of distance learning is very bright and will continue to grow as technology grows.  Brick and mortar schools will never disappear completely.  There will always be a need for face to face instruction and communication.  However, instructional designers must find a way to transition distance learning from a method of supplying information to that of a true effective learning model (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008a).  Instructional designers are trained in the various learning styles of students but they must establish how they best interact with the e-learning models available and figure out which one works best.  Instruction that is based on-line holds the ability to increase learner to learner communication (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008a).  Distance learning, though, should be viewed as a tool in an educator’s bag.  Steven Cohen (2012) states “the specific tool used should be the one best matched to the educational objective.  Just because you have a tool and you know how it works, doesn’t mean you have to use it.”  The ease of obtaining information and the power that the digital world has does mean that a good educator will find a way to incorporate it into their lesson.

Distance Learning Mind Map2


Cohen, S. (2012, October 1). Distance Learning and the Future of Education. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/distance-learning-and-the_b_1928535.html

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008a). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web. TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008b). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web. TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

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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