Defining Distance Learning

Distance learning from my perspective is a method of study that is autonomous, self-paced, with the instructor serving as the facilitator and supporter of the educational process and the learner taking ownership of their learning goals. Interactivity between the instructors, students and the learning environment as well as between the students is a successful component of distance learning. Two-way communication is essential in distance learning along with current technology delivery and presentation methods.

In my experience as an adult learner distance education has multiple personas. As I mentioned in a previous discussion post my first experience (in 2000) with distance learning was self-paced and strictly autonomous without any accountability. Initially I was content with the autonomy and self-paced traits of the education program. However, after a few years into the program I was not satisfied with the lack of accountability and the lackadaisical nature of the education program. I also began to feel like I was sitting in a cave by myself away from the rest of the learners in the course.  There was no Instructor assigned to the course to support the learners with their studies. An advisor was assigned to support the learners and could be reached via email only. The distance program did not offer any discussion boards or any multi-media components. All course lessons and books were mailed to the learners via the US postal service. The only thing I did online was take quizzes and the final exam.  This distance education program truly embodied the definition of separation of teacher and student (Simonson, Smaldino, Zvacek, 2015).  I hope that today with the changes in technology and the advent of Web 2.0 technologies that programs like this are no longer available.

In 2013 I decided to take another distance learning course hosted at a local college’s continuing education program. This was an 8 week course with weekly assignments to submit and a final exam. With the rapid technology changes and the use of the internet to host online courses there was a 360° difference in my learning experience. The Learning Management System’s (LMS) integration with the web was easy to navigate and all components were online, including multi-media with interactivity. A discussion board was available for interaction with the Instructor and the other students. The course curriculum was very well written. The tone of the instruction presented by the Instructor was very warm and friendly and I felt as if I knew the instructor.  As a learner I was connected to the resources and the instructor, engaged in this course and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I believe that there are many factors that drive the evolution of the definition of distance learning. Technology and the need to meet the learner objectives as well as engage the learner are strategic forces of change in distance learning.  There is a growing number of non-traditional students seeking to change careers and taking courses at the post-secondary level. This can potentially decrease the campus-based and residential enrollment in many post-secondary institutions (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008). The opportunity for a diverse selection of lifelong learning is also a catalyst for the evolution of the definition of distance learning.  Because technology is a driving force in distance learning it is paramount that the distance learning courses use technology to provide multi-directional communication that fosters learning to meet the instructional goal (Moreno & Mayer 2007).

After reading the resources for this week my definition of distance learning has broadened. Learning the various definitions of distance learning and the history of the field was very informative. In fact it made me recall when my older sister took a correspondence course (via the US mail) in shorthand back in the early 70’s. So distance learning is a field with extensive history and the advent of the internet and advanced technology trends has seen a growth and a noticeable evolution over the years.

My vision for the future of distance learning is that ID’s will lead the e-learning enterprise with sound professional design practices that establish quality instructional methodologies and the utilization of the Web 2.0 technology trends.  An essential success strategy must embody quality, needs assessment, ROI and measurement of outcomes, performance support and knowledge management, focus on implementation of better instructional design methodologies, and more effective learning models (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008). These key factors must be addressed to have a strategic influence on the evolution of ID as a field resulting in a transformational impact. I would like to see the role of the ID employed as the subject matter expert supporting effective design strategies with the use of sound ID principles and methodologies.



Moller, L., Foshay, W. R., & Huett, J. (2008). The Evolution od Distance Education: Implications for Instructional Design on the Potential of the Wed (Part 1: Training and development). TechTends, 52(3), 70-75.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. (2007). Interactive multimodal learning environments. Educational Psychology Review19(3), 309–326.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education

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