Sunday, March 6, 2011

Defining Distance Learning

Those who have little experience with distance learning frequently think courses are an independent study with minimal interaction with instructors and learners in an online or virtual environment. Before taking distance learning courses I too, followed the same line of thought. I questioned the value of a degree earned through distance learning and if students participating in the program would be as knowledgeable and prepared as students participating in a traditional program. 

My first experience with distance education was when I was working towards a BA degree. The course was very much a self study. There was no course management system only a page on the university’s website with a copy of the syllabus listing the weekly readings and directions for papers and projects. Communication and assignment submissions were completed through e-mail. The professor never responded to email communications and there was no method available to discuss the content with other students in the class. This experience did not encourage me to continue taking distance learning courses.

There are many aspects of the education system that play a part in a positive learning experience. The learner, instructor, and resources all affect the learning experience. A brick and mortar classroom versus an online discussion forum does not affect the learning experience as much as a qualified instructor or a motivated learner (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008). A quality positive learning experience can take place anywhere. Dr. Simonson defines distance educations as “formal education in which the learning group (teacher, students, and resources) are separated by geography and, sometimes, by time” (Laureate Education, 2011). Distance education programs bring together learners and instructors from all over the world. This allows learners to benefit from the interaction with people they would not normally have been able to meet with due to location.

As technology has evolved, so has distance learning. Educators have marveled at the inventions of the radio, television set, and personal computers and at the same time feared that the technology had the potential to replace the teacher. Technology has opened so many doors for education and allowed everyone the opportunity to access a large quantity of information. A textbook was such a precious resource to the student when information was difficult to access. In today’s world a textbook is just one of many types of resources available to students (Laureate Education, 2011).

Human beings value personal interaction. We learn how to apply concepts through discussion. Most people want to discuss what they have learned with other people who share common interests. The technology will never replace the teacher. Teachers will adapt and learn the best ways to incorporate technology into the classroom to benefit their students (Laureate Education 2011).


Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.

Laureate Education. (2011) Distance learning timeline continuum. Retrieved from

Laureate Education. (2011) Distance education: the next generation. Retrieved from

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