Distance Learning: Where do we go from here?

2 03 2014

When I named my blog “The New School Adult,” I was literally reflecting on my own challenges and experiences as an adult learner who decided to return back to school late in life.  I remember my first walk on campus and my first college course like it was just yesterday, even though it was August of 2005.  I stepped into a whole new world of education that had evolved since I graduated high school back in the 1980s.  Not only had the learning environment changed, but the world of technology as I knew it had changed.  I was overwhelmed to say the least!

If you can imagine how I felt in the physical environment, then try imagining how I felt when I first tried online learning.  Like many learners, I had my own perceptions regarding online learning.  I questioned its validity in terms of quality education and how it would measure up to the experience I had in the campus classroom. Moller, Foshay, & Huett (2008) argues that “However, models of classroom instructional delivery and models of online delivery systems are vastly different; they should not be seen as one and the same.  Taking what one is familiar with and/or using what works in one environment and simply duplicating it in a new environment can lead to limited positive results” (p. 67).  I soon realized that the learning community in my undergraduate experience was going to have a different format and feel in the distance learning environment.  I believe one of the biggest perceptions of online learning is who has control of the learning environment once it is let out of the confines of the classroom.  Will this perception improve or worsen as technology continues to evolve?

I am now at the completion of my 7th course for distance learning, and I have come to realize and accept that my online learning community may have shifted in terms of dynamics, but it is still a valid learning community that involves interaction and feedback just like a physical classroom learning community.  The difference in online learning is the heavy use of technology to create a convenient learning solution for those who wish to learn new skills while pursuing careers, taking care of their families and fulfilling community roles.  This technology use requires that the learning community takes a shift.  ONeil (2009) explains:

When integrating student experiences with technology, the role of the teacher changes.  The teacher no longer has to be in charge, but can give some of the control over to the students and the technology.  The task for the teacher is to arrange the learning environment in such a way as to provide situations in which students use their own knowledge to construct meaning of a particular problem.  A learning environment is created in which students are active participants in the learning process. (p. 5)

What helped me to see the online learning community as a valid one is seeing how learning communities even exist in social media.  As people share text, images, and videos, they are learning about each other’s attitudes, opinions, and life experiences.  The atmosphere in a social media community may be more informal and relaxed than the academic setting, but it still mimics a distance learning community. As social media and technology continues to evolve, our understanding of learning communities will grow and improve our knowledge of online learning.

As an instructional design student, I see the future of online learning evolving and becoming more respected as rich research is developed regarding learning communities/learning styles and their development in an online setting.  Our society craves innovative products and ideas to enhance the quality of their daily lives and the educational arena is one of those areas.  Dede (2005) points out:

Increasingly, people want educational products and services tailored to their individual needs rather than one-size-fits all courses of fixed length, content, and pedagogy.  Whether this individualization of educational products is effective depends both on the insight with which learners access their needs and desires and on the degree to which institutions provide quality customized services rather than Frankenstein-like mixtures of learning modules. (p. 8)

Understanding how students interact and learn according to different learning styles and environments will require the instructional design student to study multiple theories and not be afraid to create those innovative products using a mix of theories and technology.

The distance learning course I just completed with a very passionate and knowledgeable instructor has challenged me as an instructional design student not to just accept the status quo.  My instructor and learning community has challenged me to do my research and to put theory into practice, as well as to access my own knowledge and experiences to create high quality e-learning products that will meet the demands of a changing educational arena.  Mayer (2008) explains:

Finally, in the two-way approach, there is a reciprocal relation between learning theory and educational practice in which the science of learning must be expanded to be able to explain how learning works in authentic learning situations, and the science of instruction must be expanded to consider the conditions for each instructional principle based on an understanding of how the human mind works. (p. 760)

I believe the beauty of the emerging instructional design process is the understanding how multiple disciplines and theories can work together to create an educational experience that promotes change and has lasting impact.


 Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28(2), 7-12

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760-767.

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(3), 66–70

Oneil, T.D. (2009). How distance education has changed teaching and the role of the instructor. Information Systems Education Journal, 7(48), 1-11



3 responses

7 05 2014
Lisa Dagenais

I will be following your blog this term.

8 05 2014
Melissa Topinka

Hey Cheryl! Looking forward to following your blog for our Project Mgmt class!

Take care!
Melissa Topinka

9 05 2014

Hi Cheryl I will be following your blog during our project management course. Look forward to reading your post!

Torey Diggs

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