Reflecting on the Future of Distance Learning

As Walden University’s graduate course EDUC 6135 Distance Learning comes to a close, I will reflect upon the future of distance learning by answering the following questions:

  1. What do you think the perceptions of distance learning will be in the future (in 5-10 years; 10-20 years)?
  2. How can you as an instructional designer be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning?
  3. How will you be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education?

Perceptions of Distance Learning in the Future

When I started this course eight weeks ago, I was not aware of the impact distance learning has had on the history of education, both formal and informal, going back to its early beginnings as a correspondence study advertised through a Swedish newspaper in 1833 (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Along the evolution time line, it is interesting how many of the advances in distance learning occurred in conjunction with advances in technology. This timeline includes the following milestones: mail order correspondence studies, educational radio, education via broadcast television, and then satellite instructional television (Simonson et al., 2012). Fiber-optic communication systems, introduced in the late 1980s, were the first of its kind to offer, live, two-way, audio and video communication between groups of students (Simonson et al., 2012).

Despite fiber-optics’ unique features, its impact on distance learning was quickly overshadowed by the creation of the World Wide Web in 1991 and as one resource describes it, the “internet changed everything” (Post University, 2012). The bond between distance learning and the internet has grown so strong in the last 22 years, I wonder if it will ever be broken. On the other hand, with the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies including blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, Flash, hosted services, and web applications (MindGrub Technologies, 2010), distance learning moved into a new era, not just for delivering content, but also for creating and sharing content in a global setting, irrespective of time and place.

Distance learning will continue to evolve as Web 3.0 technologies are implemented. Known as the “Intelligent Web with its portability and mobility” (MindGrub Technologies, 2010), distance learners will have access to better searches, ultra-high speed broadband networks, and fourth generation cellular wireless transmissions. Other Web 3.0 technologies anticipated to impact distance learning include: Cloud computing and storage options, Internet on TV, social media on Smart Phones and in motor vehicles, and location enabled social media (MindGrub Technologies, 2010).

In addition to the emerging Web 3.0 technologies, other forces will also impact distance learning in the coming years. As Dr. Siemens reflected in his video, the future for distance learning in the next 5 to 10 years includes a growing acceptance of online communication, practical experience with new technology tools, and a growing comfort with online learning programs. Also, distance learners will have the ability to communicate with a diverse group of global learners, in the corporate world, as well as in education (Laureate Education, 2010).

Distance learning in the future will be impacted by these additional advancements and changes: Continuous learning will be essential for the workers of tomorrow; the operation of traditional schools for K-12 education and higher education will evolve and meld together; and technical familiarity with distance learning skills will have increasing value for students (The International Association for Distance Learning (IADL), n.d.). According to the IADL, these changes are expected in the next decade: partnerships and mergers between learning institutions, publishers, technology companies and learning providers; an increasing percentage of learning will occur online; the instructor role will fade as specialized positions expand such as instructional design, content delivery, learning facilitator, and learner support. Likewise,  demand for top instructors will increase; fewer students will attend traditional on-campus degree programs, and most learners will get a portion of their formal education through online courses. The number of adult students is expected to continue increasing; cultural diversity will be more integrated into formal education; and learners will complete “degrees and certificates made up of courses and experiences from a wide range of private, public, traditional, and online learning providers” (IADL, n.d.).

In the next 10 to 20 years, I anticipate distance learning will look and function far differently than what it does today. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will expand exponentially; adult learners will be in complete control of their educational journeys; and distance learning courses will be fully interactive and realistic. Competency-based education where learners earn degrees by demonstrating competencies instead of completing required courses or credit hours (Western Governor’s University, 2013; as cited in Prometric, 2013) will experience growing acceptance and expansion. Additionally, K-12 online education will be fully integrated into school curricula while technology becomes the classroom instead of technology just being in the classroom (Post University, 2012). Higher education will experience a shift in that technology will be fully integrated into face-to-face programs as well as integrated into distance learning programs.

Improving Societal Perceptions of Distance Learning

As an instructional designer and a soon-to-be graduate of a distance learning program, I have a responsibility to be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning. This responsibility may be accomplished in several ways. On the local level, I can influence other adult learners to consider enrolling in distance learning programs to complete higher education degrees; advocate and play a major role in the design of and increased usage of distance learning in the work environment; and lobby my family and friends to consider enrolling in at least one or two distance learning courses while attaining their educational degrees. Mentoring other distance learners is another way I can improve the perceptions of distance learning. On an expanded level, I can work to improve society’s perception of distance learning by joining professional associations whose core purposes are directed to distance learning. Likewise, I can lobby my elected officials when laws and regulations regarding distance learning need to be enacted or changed.

Being a Positive Force for Continuous Improvement

It is possible to be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education. This can be accomplished by my commitment to maintain and improve my instructional design skills on a regular basis. Having up-to-date instructional design skills however is not enough. I must also be willing to learn how to use new technology for designing distance education as the technology becomes available. In addition, I must also be willing to update my knowledge and skills for the entire distance education process including assessment, design, development, implementation, and evaluation.

This distance learning course was extremely challenging and a huge commitment of my personal time to accomplish its goals and objectives, but the knowledge, skills, and dispositions I gained in the learning process far outweigh the inconveniences of long hours of study and preparation, and sleepless nights.

References

Laureate Education (2010). Dr. George Siemens: The future of distance education. [Video Program].

MindGrub Technologies (2010). Emerging web 3.0 technologies you need to know. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/mindgrub/emerging-web-30-technologies-you-need-to-know

Post University (2012). The evolution of distance learning in higher education. [Interactive Timeline].  Retrieved from http://www.evolution-of-distance-learning.com/

Prometric (2013, March 2). The future of distance learning in practice. Retrieved from https://www.prometric.com/en-us/news-and-resources/reference-materials/Pages/The-Future-of-Distance-Learning-in-Practice.aspx

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S, Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

The International Association for Distance Learning (n.d.). What is the future of distance learning? Retrieved from http://www.iadl.org.uk/Article17.htm

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by April on March 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Hi, Penny! I’m following you… 🙂 Beware. 🙂 April

    Reply

  2. Posted by Marta on March 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Penny,

    I agree with your assessment of the demanding nature of the distance learning course. As you pointed out, it was a great experience for me as well.

    I look forward to reading your posts in the project management class.

    Marta

    Reply

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