Sunday, July 3, 2011

Distance Learning in my Eye

            Before I began this journey to becoming an Instructional Designer I had a very small idea of what distance learning actually was. Not so much because I was unlearned in the theories and concepts of distance learning, but because I had really never thought about it. Then I went from having no real concern for it to plunging into becoming a distance learner, who is now currently learning about distance learning.  Now that this knot is woven I will explain this a little bit more. I used to think distance learning was getting on a computer or tuning into a tv show and learning something. I felt like a distance learner when I was on learning how to change my bike tire, or reading about the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, even watching how to cook like Paula Dean on the Food Network. But as I began to learning more about this topic from a more professional standpoint it became clear that I was off the mark. Many of the things I considered to fall under the umbrella of distance learning were really self study.

            Distance learning is defined, in Teaching and Learning as a Distance as “institution based, formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources , and instructors” (Simonson, 2009).  So if I use this definition it is clear just how unclear I was about distance learning.

            First, it states that distance learning is tied to an institution (Simonson, 2009). So, even though is available in most homes, on multiple phones, used by teachers to show all kinds of information to their students, it is not an institution, nor is the Food Network, much to the chagrin of my best friend. Universities, schools, corporations and such are considered to be “institutions” in this matter. So even though thanks to Paula Dean I can now make a banana pudding that brings a tear to the eye, and I learned about it years after she demonstrated how to make said pudding in a city about a thousand miles from where I downloaded the recipe, and it is an education that has made me famous at my church, this was not and will never be considered distance learning but instead simply self study.

            This pudding example personifies the main point of distance learning. Yes, this kitchen master and I were separated by distance and time, and I had to use the internet (interactive communication) to find the recipe. But the main reason that makes this example one of self study is that distance learning must connect “learners, resources and instructors” (Simonson, 2009).  And no matter how emotional I get about this delectable dessert, Paula Dean has no connection to me and my kitchen explorations. “The definition of distance education included these four components. If one or more are missing, then the event is something different if only slightly, than distance education” (Simonson, 2009).

            Distance learning has been around for well over a hundred years. In the past the “interactive community” (Simonson, 2009) was letters and assignments mailed back and forth between teacher and student. But the popularization of the world wide web made learning at a distance an easy and affordable option in the United States of America (Simonson, n.d.).  In the span of a year the amount of students enrolled in a distance learning program went from 1.5 million to 6 million, which leads experts to believe that numbers will continue to increase dramatically in the next few year (Simonson, n.d.).  I personally feel there is a long way to go before it is received by all as a regular option for education. Home schooling and online degrees are still looked at by many as a less that standard education. But as the internet grows and becomes even more entrenched in our daily lives, people will accept distance based educations as a viable option, not a replacement of universities (Simonson, n.d.), but an option none the less.

            Now as I look at my personal definition of distance learning, I would have to say that it embodies much of what I have learned from these educational sources I was given in my online class. It is an education from a large institution that takes place at different times and locations for several people, and there has to be a shared relationship on some level between the teacher and learner.

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

Simonson, M. (n.d.). Distance education the next generation. Retrieved from on July 2, 2011. 

** The awesome banana pudding recipe can be found at: not your mama's banana pudding

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