Friday, 1 July 2016

EDUC6135 Defining Distance Learning


Week 1 Blog Assignment

Before starting this course, my personal definition of distance learning was shaped by my own experience as an online student.  The distance learning experience typically consists of:
  • Readings
  • Discussion postings
  • Projects and Assignments uploaded to a dropbox

I also viewed distance learning solely from an academic perspective:  taking courses to earn academic credits.  I also envisioned the profile of a typical online learner as an adult who was likely working full-time and juggling work and family responsibilities.  Again, this is based on my own experience and that of colleagues and friends who are within the same demographic as I am.   

There are many terms used to describe distance learning, including:  elearning, virtual, online, blended, flipped, CAI (computer assisted instruction), distributed, and more.  It is no wonder that the definition keeps changing and evolving.  Technology continues to become more powerful, affordable and pervasive, enabling more content to be delivered and consumed outside of the physical classroom. Content comes in many shapes and forms, including synchronous and asynchronous tools that include audio, video, animation, chat, images, interactive learning objects, and more.  Teaching and learning is a fundamental concept but the tools being used are changing rapidly and are presenting new and different ways to teach and learn.

Like distance learning that has been evolving since 1833, my definition and understanding has also “evolved” over the past week.  Dr. Simonson defines distance learning as “formal education that is institutionally based where teachers, students and resources are separately by geography and time.” (Laureate Education, n.d.)  As shown in the Distance Learning Timeline Continuum, it has only been since 1979 that computers have been used.  Today, technology is used to develop content, design courses, deliver curriculum and training and provide interaction between instructor, learners and resources as shown in the figure below:

 Source:  Moore & Kearsley (2012)

We are also seeing growth of distance learning in business and industry for employee training. I have expanded my definition of distance learning to include corporate training which is primarily motivated by economic factors (Moller et. al., 2008, p. 70).  At my own educational institution where resources continue to shrink, distance learning can increase enrollment (revenue) without the physical constraints of the classroom and decreases expenses (hire part-time instructors to deliver courses).   Does this mean quantity is being put ahead of quality?  

To convey my vision for the future of distance learning, I refer to the theory of adoption of innovations produced by Everett Rogers.  It includes five adopter categories:  innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.  The adoption of an innovation follows an S curve when plotted over time and I believe we are sitting between early and late majority adopter categories and have not met critical mass yet.  

I believe that the future of distance learning is exciting with opportunities for instructional designers, subject matter experts, technologists and other learning specialists to work together to create engaging and effective learning experiences for all ages, levels and types of learners.


Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video file].  Retrieved from

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008a). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). 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 (Part 2: Higher education).TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

Moore, M., & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning, Third Edition Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Rogers, Everett.  (1995).  Diffusion of Innovations.  Retrieved from

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