Defining Distance Learning

Week 1 Mind Map JPeg


This post is a reflection of this week’s learning resources for distance learning: its definition and how it constantly evolves. I will present to you a formal definition, my own personal definition, how distance learning has evolved, what I think the future of distance learning is.

Distance Learning is defined as “institutional-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (Simonson et al., 2012). I agree with this definition except for the “formal” portion. Before starting this course, I thought of distance learning as a setting where a learner is at a desk or on a couch, studying, reading or listening to some sort of instruction (mostly via the web), separated by time and space from where and when the instruction originated. After reading this week’s learning resources I still find that to be true, but I realize there is more to this picture I have painted in my head. There are many universities and companies who provided distance learning to students or employees, but ask them to attend to portions or all of the class/seminar at a specific time and date in order to further the learning through active discussions rather than posting a discussion forum and allowing the students/employees to discuss points of topic at their leisurely pace.

Also, my definition and understanding of distance learning has always been one sided – through the learners eyes. As I found out in this week’s resources, a lot of preparatory work and exhaustive hours come at the hands of at least one instructor (and in many cases multiple instructors). Morrison et al. states, “The very nature of producing an educational process in which the learner and teacher are separated by time and space, communicating through technology, and probably using different instructional strategies is markedly different from traditional face-to-face instruction. It is not simply a matter of the faculty member’s content knowledge. Not only is there a pedagogical difference, but also the inclusion of technology often requires new skill sets, new ways of thinking, new time and resource management skills, new ways of communicating and new communication boundaries, additional workers, and interdepartmental coordination to be done successfully” (2008, pg. 68).

With that being said, I would define distance learning as facilitator led or not led instruction provided to the student, who accesses an interactive learning community full of learning resources, discussions (live or previously posted), and possibly evaluation exercises in order to gain relevant insight and knowledge to further education and experience. This does not only happen in a college or university setting, but rather any forum where education and knowledge is at the forefront. For example, a company can further employee knowledge on the seriousness of sexual assault through an online course.

Technology is rapidly changing and with that so does distance learning. When I was in college pursuing a BS degree, I attended a class where the instructor would post his discussions on the web for students to view later or could not make it to the class. Now classes and degrees are designed solely around this concept and the student never has to leave the comfort of his/her own house and can attend when the time is right for the learner. As technology changes so does the path to provide access to the learner, but there is one foundation that cannot be changed and that is to provide the learner the best opportunity to learn. “Distance learning is a dramatic idea. It may change, even restructure, education, but only if it is possible to make the experience of the distant learner as complete, satisfying and acceptable as their experience of the local learner” (Simonson et al., 2012).

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

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


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