Defining Distance Learning as it Changes

10 Mar

Easily a quick Google or YouTube search can provide a reader the definition of what Distance Learning has come to mean in our modern technologically linked society, with its formal roots as far back as the postal service, while it’s informal roots may go dating back to when nomads and merchant ships carried artifacts and printed knowledge from one shore to another, leading to the spread and self-study of anything from the Phoenician alphabet, to the art of crochet (EPCOT, 2013 & Maine Maritime Museum, 2013).   The main concept of distance education being, that the teacher and student are at some separation, by time, distance, or understanding, and the knowledge or information is being transported from one to the other in some way (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zavacek, 2012).

wordle distance learning word picture pdf

Whether by sailing ship, horseback courier, or in the mail by rail, those who have desired to teach, and those who have desired to learn have managed to communicate ideas with one another.  As the technology of communication has changed, so has the advancement of distance learning.  Even in the past 5 to 10 years, the increased use of the internet, along with greater access to streaming video such as You Tube, have created international surges in crowd-sourced instruction and study, especially in areas of “making” and “doing” that have been difficult to translate onto paper and publish into books for shipping, as was necessary before for most types of “correspondence” or “self-study” courses in the few hundred years before (Edutopia, 2013).

Surprisingly, as I was doing my own You Tube search on the topic, (having grown to understand that it is now becoming counter-productive for a learner, or an educator, to un-necessarily re-invent the wheel in order provide or produce learning materials to share before first doing a literature and media review…) I came across a video segment, that for the first time, had me considering the challenges of quality and accreditation of my own studies, and the unique field in which I use distance learning; the elder and adult disabled populations; for their crafts and elective interests topics.   As it turns out, there is far more to the history of distance learning’s progress in America, and the separation of its multiple branches (edu-tainment vs. trade skills study vs. scholarly pursuits) that make distance learning so challenging to view as a single subject of study.  This historical inter-weaving, use, and maturing of distance education is eloquently presented in a lengthy but mesmerizing You Tube video by the Distance Education and Training Council, titled, The American Way to Learn:

This program not only reviewed the similar timeline and founding scholars presented in Walden University’s course media and text, reinforcing the concept that today’s definition of formal distance learning is, “institutionally based, sharing of data and multimedia, via interactive telecommunications, between teacher and student at some level of time or distance separation,” it also emphasized the value of self-regulation among the industry and its institutions (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012) & (DETC, 2011).  This is especially poignant when speaking of the value of educating a person, when it is funded by another person, institution, or government.  This led me to investigate the accrediting process that is undergone by my own University in which I am enrolled.  In a detailed video, Walden University outlines the process that it recently underwent to renew its regional accreditation:

(Walden University, 2012).

In the industry in which I work, however, the rise in open-source instructional media, and even crowd-sourced discovery and innovation, has as valuable an impact on humanity as the sense of security gained from institution-based quality of instruction, when considering the other side of the scale.  Rapid progress comes from both a fast-paced sharing of innovation to a focused group of specialists, as well as the slower collection and reflection of scholars and historians to remind society of the similarities in trends to where we have already been as a society (Edutopia, 2013) & (DETC, 2011).  It is this juxtaposition of experimental social-constructivist prototyping, which can now flow around the globe and be re-applied as new learning, worldwide, in as little as 48 hours, set side by side with the skills of cognitive reflection, which move the greater populous forward, with improved ease and a higher likelihood of experiencing success rather than experimental failure.  This was so creatively expressed in the video and related discussion posts that came across my Facebook news-feed earlier this week, from Edutopia:

So, as learners continue to apply these new communication technologies, with or without the support and structure of an institution or accrediting oversight, both the doers and the thinkers are now able to connect and progress at a more rapid pace than before.  Just as the steam-engine sparked the rapid expansion of correspondence-by-mail study, so too may the ever-increasing accessibility to media-based knowledge-sharing be to rapid expansion of open-source study and informal distance learning’s emerging renaissance.  The impact that this will have on the definition of “distance learning” and “distance education” being institution-based, may lead to re-defining either distance education, or the loosening  of the definition of what constitutes the governing “institution” in the future, to include, businesses, associations, organizations, and topic masters; all quite similar to the history that was shared in the DETC documentary.

It seems today I again learned, that history, regardless of the technology being applied, may once again repeat itself – and all of this I was able to learn through Distance Education.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “Defining Distance Learning as it Changes

  1. janicehoroschak

    March 10, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Hello Eileen,

    I am following your blog. It is very clean and I look forward to reading your postings.
    Janice Horoschak


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