Monday, April 25, 2011

The Future of Distance Education

Distance education programs are quickly gaining popularity among students because of the many benefits they offer. The benefits of distance learning programs include individualized programs, self pace learning, flexibility, and interactive lessons. Distance learning programs tend to incorporate more learner centered activities versus teacher centered activities. Moller, Foshay, and Huett (2008) discuss the possibility of offering a variety of courses that would not normally be available due to teacher shortage or the lack of qualified teachers in the subject area.

As technology continues to evolve, people are beginning to see the online environment as more than a place to find information. Through online sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Skype the internet is now able to provide a social environment as well. People are becoming more comfortable using the technology and have a desire to connect with others socially online. Professional learning communities have developed and flourished online enabling people to meet others in their field from all over the world. Because of this evolving perception of the online environment, information gathering to social, people are becoming more accepting of distance learning / e-learning (Laureate Education, 2011).

Distance learning will continue to spread through schools, government agencies, and corporations because of its growing acceptance. In the future all courses will provide some content to the learner through a distance learning format (Laureate Education, 2011). Some courses will be hybrid formats where part of the course is taught online and part is taught face-to-face. While other courses will completely online (Ritter, Polnick, Fink, and Oescher, 2010).

Instructional designers improve the field of distance education one course at a time working to build a reputation of quality education that encourages students to enroll. Gambescia and Paolucci (2009) discuss the importance of academic fidelity which can be shown through faculty performance, curriculum resources, and quality. Since the learners are interacting with the content independently, course design is of utmost importance. Developing a delivery system that provides methods of communication, storage for course resources, and a method for submitting and grading assignments as well as designing learner centered activities focused on the learning outcomes of the course helps to insure the course’s academic fidelity. Instructional designers play a key role in changing people’s perceptions of distance education. 

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from
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). The future of distance education. Retrieved from
Ritter, C., Polnick, B., Fink, R., & Oescher, J. (2010). Classroom learning communities in educational leadership: a comparison study of three delivery options. Internet and higher education, 13(1-2), 96-100. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Converting Traditional Learning to a Distance Learning Format

A Guide for Best Instructional Design Practices

Scenario: A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face to face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face to face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times. 

Pre-Planning Strategies

When considering a blended learning environment, the course content needs to be evaluated to determine what could best be presented online and what should be taught in the classroom. Course readings, discussions, written activities, and assessments can all be completed in an online classroom, while hands on activities could be completed in the classroom. A course management system needs to be selected that allows the instructor to facilitate the course and manage grades, assignments, distribute resources, and facilitate discussion forums (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).

Distance learners require instructional activities that are clearly explained, well structured, engaging, involve higher order thinking skills, and are relevant. Activities that meet these requirements have a greater chance of motivating and engaging the learner (Simonson, 2009).
There are several important factors to consider when designing a distance learning course. Providing a course syllabus makes the students aware of the instructional goals and objectives as well as the learning activities they will participate in throughout the course. An orientation introducing students to the technological tools they will be using during the program and a forum for questions and answers will go a long way in reducing the stress of a first time distance learner. A collaborative classroom culture benefits the student and promotes learning. However, students who are not familiar with distance learning courses or had a previous bad experience will be hesitant to participate in a collaborative assignment. The course should be designed to gradually introduce students to collaborative projects (Simonson, 2009).

When designing instructional activities the designer needs to consider what the learner’s prior knowledge of the topic is and how to incorporate the different learning styles. Instructional activities need to meet the instructional goals and keep the learner engaged in the learning process (Simonson, 2009). Students are looking for educational activities that fit their individual learning style. The designer needs to keep this in mind and develop an array of resources that focus on the same concepts and present the information in a method the learner prefers (Dede, 2005).
Discussion activities can be a valuable learning experience for a distance learner. When developing a discussion topic needs to be sure the learner is able to analyze and synthesize the information from multiple sources and then create a response that includes both content and personal experience. Discussions engage the learner and help them feel part of a learning community. “Asynchronous discussions often become the heart of an online course, as they allow for reflection time and critical thinking, often resulting in more student involvement than in a face to face classroom discussion” (Freeman, n.d., p. 2).

Learning Enhanced Through Distance Education

The benefits of distance learning programs include individualized programs, self pace learning, flexibility, and interactive lessons (Moller, Foshay, and Huett, 2008). Online courses offer students access to the ‘classroom’ and materials anytime. Students are able to pace their learning while participating in activities that encourage active learning and involve multiple learning styles. (Simonson, 2009).

The Role of the Instructor

Distance Education Face-to-Face
Facilitate Synchronous or Asynchronous Discussions

Learner Center Activities

Available Throughout the Day

Select and Filter Content/ Information

(Simonson, 2009)

Participate in the Learning Activity

(Laureate Education, 2011)
Facilitate Synchronous Discussions

Learner and Teacher Center Activities

Deliver Lectures

Available during the Class Session

Transfer Information/Content to the Learner

(Simonson, 2009)

Lead the Learning Activity

(Laureate Education, 2011).
Encouraging Online Communication

Distance learning activities are more effective when they are student centered, so it is important that the instructor does not dominate the discussion forum and encourages students to participate frequently (Simonson, 2009). Instructor responses that encourage student engagement include questions regarding content, adding to another students post, posting additional resources or real life examples not included in the course resources, or offering opposing points of view. Discussion topics should be chosen carefully. Discussions will continue to develop when topic can be seen from multiple points of view and/or allows the student to connect the topic to their prior knowledge (Durrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006). 

Rubrics or guidelines should be provided to the student prior to the discussion to ensure they are aware of the minimum participation requirements (Durrington, 2006). Student’s value the discussion experiences more if the activity is graded. Students contribute to the discussion by making an initial post responding to the topic showing a high level of understanding of the content and evidence of critical thinking. Students help to continue the conversation by responding to other student’s posts by expanding on their ideas or by posing feedback or questions (Simonson, 2009).


Dede, C. (2005). Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 28(1), 7-12. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from

Freeman, J. (n.d.). Using discussions in online courses: the importance of interactivity. Retrieved from

Laureate Education. (2011). Facilitating online learning. Retrieved from

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

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Impact of Open Source

The Impact of Open Source

Course management systems offered through open source software have opened many doors in the education field. There are courses available for free on a variety of topics. Not all open source courseware is equal. Each course will need to be evaluated to determine its quality. Courses should be well organized and clearly state learning objectives and requirements. Learning activities should be hands on, learner centered, and relate to the course content (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).

School Geography: Exploring a Definition

School Geography: Exploring a Definition is an example of an open source course. This course focuses on the importance of Geography in education and how to think like a geographer. The course is designed to take approximately nine hours. The content is well organized and a brief outline is accessible as the learner progresses through the course. The course content is divided into sections by topic. When the learner begins the course, they first read a brief overview of the course and the course objectives. The learner has the ability to follow the organizational flow set by the designer or use the outline to skip to other sections based on interest. While it does take a few minutes to get a feel for the layout of the course management site, navigating though the course is fairly simple (Laureate Education, 2011).

Each topic or module presents information in multiple formats meeting the needs of the various learning styles. Information is presented in text, audio clips, and video clips. Additional documents and transcripts can also be accessed. The materials and resources are relevant and help the learner to better understand the concept. For the convenience of the learner, the entire course is available in multiple formats including online, downloadable eBook, or downloadable word document (Simonson, 2009).

The learning activities are either hands on or opinion based. They are designed to get the learner involved and thinking about the material and concepts. Activities are learner centered and relate to the course resources and objectives (Laureate Education, 2011).

School Geography is offered through Learning Space, which offers hundreds of free open source courses. Learning Space offers several tools for registered users such as video conferencing, video capture and editing program, mind map tools, and a rating and review system. A unit forum is also offered for students to discuss the concepts being studied during the course. These tools enable learners to connect with each other and share what they are learning (Learning Space, 2011).

School Geography does not properly utilize many of the resources available through Learning Space. The learner is very isolated throughout the course without an instructor or classmates to interact or communicate. The course was designed to be completed individually or with a group. The designer states in the directions for the initial activity that the course would be better to complete with a group. Without an instructor to guide the students though the learning process, this course is meant to be more of an independent study or used by another instructor for their course content. Considering that there is no instructor continuously monitoring the course, it is understandable why the designer chose not to include the Learning Space resources into the class. Students do still have to option of using the unit forum to communicate, however there is not an instructor who will monitor and respond to the posts.


Laureate Education. (2011). Planning and designing online courses. Retrieved from

Learning Space. (2011). School geography: exploring a definition. Retrieved from

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