Evolution of Distance Learning

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Personal Distance Learning Definition prior to Assignment

To be perfectly frank, prior to this blog I had not actually formally defined distance learning, per se.  If forced to determine meaning from the words, I would have determined that distance would imply separation of some type, likely geographical.  Learning would be any type of learning, formal or informal.  The medium could not be characterized without presumption.  Therefore, if pushed for a determination of medium I would likely state internet and/or mobile device usage as the medium of choice for delivery.  Clearly, my personal definition would be superficial at best, because prior to this I had not given “distance learning” semantic meaning unto itself.

New Connections Made

After completing the reading for the assignment and reflecting on the descriptions therein, it is clear to me that distance learning has surrounded me my entire life, in one form or another.  Although aware of correspondence courses peripherally, I had never actually participated in one.  Further, prior to this week I had no idea that a great deal of distance learning occurred by radio, past or present.  There have been numerous occasions where I had seen fliers advertising broadcast television courses; however, the courses offered were rarely more than basic in information or for lifestyle enhancement, such as a basic word-processing course or learn how to dance course.  In addition, I do not believe I ever had the funds and/or the requisite television channel and/or the appropriate schedule to participate in any of the courses, even if they were appropriate to my life.  Indeed, the first time distance learning became real to me was with the advent of the internet.  However, despite the internet presence being available for over a decade, true accessibility to online learning has only been a more recent possibility for various reasons, not the least of which being the previous stigma of receiving an education via distance learning, believed to be somehow less adequate than an education in a traditional classroom environment.  Fortunately, I discovered Walden University about a year ago and was pleased to embark on my quest for higher education via distance learning, which in this instance was usually comprised of asynchronous discussions, accessible resources, instructors as facilitators and a variety of media such as video, audio, tutorials, blogs, etc.

My Revised Definition of Distance Learning

It would seem that my education with Walden falls within the definition of our text, which defines distance learning as comprised of four essential components: (1) it must be institutionally based; (2) there must be a separation of teacher and student (via time, location and/or intellect); (3) interactive (synchronous or asynchronous) telecommunications (some type of communication interface, usually electronic media such radio, television, telephone, or internet) must be utilized; and, (4) connections between learners, instructors and resources must be accessible (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 32-33).  Despite this definition and that of others, I would expand the definition of distance learning to encompass Charles Wedemeyer’s view wherein he “emphasized learner independence and adoption of technology as a way to implement… independence” (Tracey & Richey, 2005, p. 20).

Distance Learning in the Future

What this means to me is simply that distance education may currently still stand on the pillars of institutions, but as technology advances with knowledge, there will likely come a time when education will truly lie in the hands of those who seek it, not just those who can afford it.  Truthfully, at the moment distance education is still out of the reach of many people for economic reasons.  I have to question a world in which knowledge is far too expensive for the masses so that those who obtain it rarely have enough power to use it effectively in a populace filled with ignorance, created by policies of our own making.  Is it any wonder why the United States struggles so?

Distance learning is only one of the baby steps toward a society in which education becomes more readily accessible to all who desire it, and more importantly, designed to be effective for them.  It is my belief that with the current progression of technology, knowledge, information, and education, personalized learning will become the norm, rather than the exception, as education becomes available in myriad forms from a wide variety of resources.

As just a simple example of education and knowledge available in ways never before, when I purchased by iPad and downloaded the Kindle app I was very surprised to find that many classics from my youth were now out of print and, therefore, free to download.  I downloaded numerous classics such as Catcher in the Rye, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Aesop’s Fables, and others.  Further, when I studied for my credential exam I simply purchased texts, and went online to find relevant tutorials for everything from thermodynamics to electrical conduction.  Although our formal education is still at the mercy of “accreditation committees” there will be a time when instead of institutions being tested it will be the individuals who are tested for knowledge, which would make far more sense.  Attending a University of any stature is no guarantee of learning, and despite opinions to the contrary, neither are traditional grading systems.  Perhaps, there will be a universal testing system that will test the individual after allowing them to learn the knowledge in any form they desire, which would be true independence.

References

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Tracey, M. W., & Richey, R. C. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17-21. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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