Prior to starting my studies of Distance Learning (Distance Education) within the Instructional Design Graduate program, I had majored in Higher Education, with a specialization in Online and Distance Learning. I had chosen to further study Instructional Design because my research revealed that this group of Professionals grip the reins of the Education infrastructure in a way that merits recognition and appreciation. My understanding of Distance Education at the time was basically centered around the trend of Higher Education Institutions wanting to extend their offerings to students outside their walls, increase enrolment and better the financial returns. This picture was centered around the marketability of Higher Education and Student enrolment. For the purpose of this Blog, I will stay with the term Distance Learning (DL).
My understanding of DL has morphed in the past week, as I enter the new phase of my learnings. First, I have read a brief history of Distance Education and realized that it has been in existence for over 100 years. The predecessor of Distance Education, Correspondence Courses, has been in existence about 160 years. Though styles have changed, and participants varied, the core purpose has not.
Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, (2015), traced the transitions of DL from its application in Correspondence Courses in the early 90’s, to the use of electronic communications and fiber optics (a derivative of space-age technology) & more recently, computer-based technology. With what I call the ‘different eras of DL’, the purpose did not change, however, instruments and tools changed as the definitions of this practice changed.
In the light of the current practice of DL, and my rather basic understanding of it, the following is my revised definition:
Distance Learning is a multifaceted platform of activity, which traverses all areas of Human learning. It is institutionalized, delivered at a distance by the use of regularly updating technology, and relies heavily on feedback, multimedia, and graphic user interfaces. The two most prominent sectors of DL activity are Formal Education & Businesses.
It is with this view in mind, that I present the following summary of my understanding of the future of DL:
1. The driver for change in DL will remain two key elements: Technology & Customer requirements. The identified Customers to the process are Learners, Educational Institutions, Business Enterprises, Government Institutions & Individuals with Learning needs. All these Customers will update trends in development and design by their feedback to vendors and Instructional Designers, thus managing the deployment of upgrades and reviews in existing designs.
2. The role of Instructional Designers will filter down to a more neuroscientifically based one, one in which assessments and designs will improve in sensitivity for Learner needs, and end user responses.(Moller, Foshay,& Huett,2008)
3. Educational Institutions will commission the creation of more original online learning materials, rather than propose the conversion of existing materials to online formats.
Below is a Mindmap of my considerations:
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education
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.