Distance Education: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed, and Societal Influences

Simonson et al. (2012) state, “Recent reports have revealed that over 20% of college students are enrolled in at least one course delivered at a distance, and the U.S. Department of Education has released a meta-analysis that claims that those who study at a distance learn just as well as do traditional learners. Teaching and training the distance student are critical to education in the twenty-first century”. This post will post will discuss past, current, and future perceptions of distance learning and how instructional designers can be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning. With the technological advancements our society has seen over the past 15-30 years, educational institutions and even small to larger corporations have experimented and succeeded with different learning environments to fit the learning needs of their students and employees (Hannay & Newvine, 2006).

Distance learning has advanced tremendously over the past half-decade. Early first generation distance education used correspondence courses utilizing traditional printed material and communication via post and telephone (Hannay & Newvine, 2006). Shortly after, distance learning was beginning to be delivered with more frequently via television followed by universities taping lectures and then showing them to students in different locations called telecourcses. In fact, the method of tele-coursing is still utilized by universities today. For example, many military bases across the world air taped or live lectures to military personnel and their families who cannot attend the university locally. Perceptions from military personnel were positive because they felt they were actually a part of the course and university even if they were half way across the world because they could hear and see the professor give the lecture (Hannay & Newvine, 2006).

With the introduction and advancement of the internet, many universities can now create a distance learning environments for thousands of people across the world simultaneously as Hannay & Newvine (2006) state, “As a result of the development of enhanced third generation distance learning systems that include interactive video, email, and world wide web technologies, distance learning has been redefined to include teacher-student interaction… and because distance learning programs are designed to serve and off-campus population, these distant students will be more enthusiastic about this type of learning environment”. Again, because of the technology advancements, society is becoming more and more accustomed to having information at their fingertips whenever and wherever they want and can access it. As population has increased with technology, online education has become more accepted by both employers and educational institutions. In fact, the perception from both business’ and teachers are positive and supported because universities are focusing more and more on the validity of distance education by employing instructional designers, subject matter experts, collaborative faculty teams, and opinions of both past and current students (Tanner, Noser, & Totaro, 2009).

Along with the growth of online learning has come a variety of research studies based on shared experiences related to the pros and cons of distance learning and online education, often from the perspective of faculty and administrators involved in the design and delivery of web based education” (Ali, Hodson-Carlton, & Ryan, 2004). As an instructional designer, it will be my challenge to improve societal perceptions of distance education by continuing to blend society and learner demands by infusing technology and learning theories designed to capture and keep student attention in a distant education setting. Through the use of wiki’s, blogs, discussion portals, and interactive activities instructional designers can meet those needs of online learners. In addition to these venues, it is important to stress to those who consider distance learning as a viable option to furthering education that there are tools out there to increase the success of attaining a degree or certification. “Students must understand their role in the progress of the learning experiences (Simonson et al., 2012).

Ali, N. S., Hodson-Carlton, K., & Ryan, M. (2004). Students’ perceptions of online learning: Implications for teaching. Nurse Educator, 29(3), 111-115.

Hannay, M., & Newvine, T. (2006). Perceptions of distance learning: A comparison of online and traditional learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2(1), 1-11.

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

Tanner, J. R., Noser, T.C., & Totaro, M. W. (2009). Business faculty and undergraduate students’ perceptions of online learning: A comparative study. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(1), 29-40.


11 thoughts on “Distance Education: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed, and Societal Influences

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Mike,
    Another class together! Looking forward to reading your thoughts about Project Management via your blog.


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