Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Next Generation of Distance Learning

Simonson(2000) describes distance education as formal education, that is institutionally based, where learning groups are separated and technologies are used to link the learning groups with their resources. The millennial generation has grown up with technology being linked to society and it’s resources, however their educational experiences have fallen behind where technology is concerned. Brick and mortar schools have always suffered and lacked resources where technology is concerned- when making budget cuts, the choice between keeping a teacher and keeping a computer is obvious. However, distance learning changes that. Through distance learning, students are connected to people and places they may not have the connection to in face-to-face instruction.
According to Moller et al. (2008) distance education is become widely adopted and respected. Traditional learning institutions are beginning to use the technology to their advantage, transferring what was once taught on the ground to a virtual format and expanding the resources available to students. Schools at all levels are now putting thought into what constitutes good instruction and forming their online classes based on the best practices of face to face and virtual learning. Rather than taking a one size fits all approach, institutions are now customizing learning to suit different learning styles, needs and want of both students and instructors alike.
In my experience as an online course developer, I have seen the negative and positive aspects of distance learning. Some institutions are so quick to jump on the virtual education bandwagon they neglect to account for the student experience, the customization of programs and fail to incorporate the best resources into their courses that would make for an engaging learning experience. The millennials are not satisfied with lecture based courses delivered via computer- they want interaction, engagement and resources at their fingertips. Institutions that have strong leadership, collaborative efforts between faculty and distance learning course developers and who plan their learning according to pedagogically sound practices find that student retention and satisfaction is abound, and that the learners and instructors experience a solid education that is delivered over space and time.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008, July/August). 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. (2000). Making decisions: The use of electronic technology in online classes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 84, 29–34.