Distance education as a definition has evolved over time to a meaning and focus that is unique to many fields and experts.
When I embarked on my Master’s degree, I did so in a brand new world of education. My undergraduate degree consisted of the sage on the stage, papers typed in marathon sessions with illegal levels of coffee flowing through my blood on a typewriter, and printed classroom grades taped haphazardly on the back of the classroom door. I had since my undergraduate, become a full-time employee at a college, a full-time mum, wife of a deployed soldier, and a full-time caregiver to my ailing parents. Someone had dared to suggest that through technology, I could also fulfill my dreams and become a full-time graduate student- and I could. My definition of distance education has greatly altered from the time I was a new graduate student in a relatively new education environment to the professional I am, building (hopefully) effective online learning management systems and trying to effectively assist instructors be the best teachers that they can be, and empower students to be the best learner that they can be.
For me distance education is freedom and choice. It is intentionally meeting the needs of the learner on whatever level they need it. It is using technology to create interactivity and pedagogy that challenges and develops a learner to achieve what they want and need to know to be as effective as they want to be. It isn’t easy, nor is it a media replication of the sage on the stage that I experienced. Distance learning is open and adaptive, and it is never finished or absolute. Learning should evolve with the learner, and distance education is the conduit between the two.
Simonson and Black offer some interesting thoughts about distance education. One area of particular interest included research by the Sloan Consortium, which has since become known as the Online Learning Consortium. Most particularly, I was interested in the following information (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015):
- 2/3rds of online courses are now taught by regular faculty.
- 60% of institutions indicate that online instruction was critical to long-term plans.
- The percentage of people who believe that online learning outcomes are superior to those for face to face learning has grown by 34% since 2003.
Also of interest is the conflicting interests that are currently confronting distance learners. Specifically that while students indicate that their first choice is not to learn at a distance, they also increasingly demand to learn at a distance to supplement or replace conventional learning experiences with distance education (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015). For the educational community, this becomes a dilemma who must determine whether resources should be dedicated to improving traditional educational infrastructure, or in the development of sophisticated modern telecommunication systems (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., Russell, J. D., & Mims, C. (2015). Instructional technology and media for learning (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-356415-0