My first experience with distance learning occurred during my undergraduate college days when I needed to fulfill a three-credit elective social studies requirement and I was unable to work the class time into my busy nursing schedule. I decided to fulfill the requirement by taking a correspondence course. This was my first definition of distance learning, being able to earn credits without having to physically attend class. It fell into the realm of reading a chapter in the textbook, writing out the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter, and mailing them to the address provided within the allotted time frame. Needless to say, after the first one or two chapters, my "distance learning" deteriorated into skipping the reading and just looking up the answers to the questions and mailing them in.
My next encounter with distance learning involved taking online continuing education classes to earn CEU credits required for periodic renewal of my nursing license. Although the reading was online and the questions only required a click to answer and submit, the concept was still the same as that first correspondence course. The only real differences were the cost savings on postage and mail delivery time. The incentive for learning and knowledge retention was definitely lacking.
When I decided to pursue my master's degree through Walden's distance education program, I will admit I had my doubts as to whether the courses could ever be engaging enough to hold my interest through to completion. Contrary to my suspicions, I have been pleasantly surprised at the advancement in the online learning environment. Not only are the courses engaging, they provide collaboration and interactivity using a multimedia delivery system based on sound learning theory. The use of videos, interactive study guides, support and encouragement by faculty through timely feedback and email, and collaborative discussions and assignments with classmates has challenged my thinking and redefined my concept of distance learning. Distance learning now means being connected to others with an analogous goal for learning through the use of telecommunications from an accredited institution.
Distance education, although rapidly gaining popularity will not be the ultimate cure-all for education. Many political, social, and economical problems have emerged within the current educational system over the past couple of decades. These include political issues, governmental regulations, funding issues, social inequalities, and attendance issues. Until these problems are resolved, distance education will just be another method of delivering information to students. In addition, according to Moller, Foshay, and Huett (2008), everyone wants to join the cause without recognizing the necessity for needs assessments and evaluation processes to determine the effectiveness of the training. Naive managers and SME's may not even recognize that there are specialized e-learning design and development skills. Quality, therefore, seems to take a backseat to speed of development and cost savings. In order to facilitate the production of e-learning modules, faculty is doing much of the work with little or no training in instructional design.
Because of the advances in telecommunications and innovations in hardware and software, distance education is gradually becoming the wave of the future in both business and education (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009). Although distance education is growing at a phenomenal rate, there are still many misconceptions in both areas regarding the student/learning population, sound theoretical research-based approaches, who should design and deliver classes, and how to best use the technology available (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008). Bringing all disciplines together to embrace the same principles, policies, and attitudes regarding distance education will require future collaborative endeavors between ID's, SME's, and facilitators. Much research still needs to be done in order to determine the best methodology, technology, and procedures for presenting quality online education to diverse audiences. ID's will need to be at the forefront of this evolution if distance education is to meet the standards required to deliver students a quality 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.
Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66–70.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.