Life by Design

Defining Distance Learning

Posted on: September 6, 2010

Prior to this course, as an online student in two different programs with success, my definition of online learning based on this experience has been that online learning is defined as an educational opportunity where the student and teacher are separated by geography, ability and time.  The student progresses through the courses at their own  pace supported by the use of technology for access to resources, collaborative learning with other students and teacher guidance.

In reading and viewing this week’s resources, I am surprised to learn of the long history of distance education and the wide variety of forms it has taken.  I never would have imagined that it began back in 1833 when European newspapers began to offer courses through mail correspondence.   With the modern view of distance learning firmly in my mind, I hadn’t considered that correspondence courses were the early version of this phenomena. Certainly the greatest steps  distance education have occurred in the last 30 years with development of the PC and all the forms of technology that have sprung up.  Clearly, the advances of technology have shaped the advances of distance learning.  I also see now, with the economic recession impacting our global economy, online coursework is gaining in popularity and acceptance in many cultures around the world.

In looking at societal acceptance of online education to date, I would say that both one’s profession and technical skill base have a lot to do with how distance education expresses in one’s daily work life.  There is more demand for distance education developers now in business, specifically in  training and performance.  The level with which this is experienced, I believe, is determined by the  technological skills  one has with regard to designing, developing and deploying different learning instruments.  The financial resources that an organization has to devote to distance education also determines the quality and depth to which distance education is developed.

In higher education, often faculty buy in, technical training and economic resources are necessary to develop programs that can stand alongside brick and mortar classroom instruction.  While it does take certain qualities to make online education successful in terms of the student, by and large, many students can  and do benefit from education delivered to suit individual lifestyles.

I now see that distance learning being a part of all forms of education in the future.  Either as a stand-alone modality or delivered in tandem with f2f education in more of a hybrid fashion.   The vast array of educational material on the World Wide Web cannot be ignored.   I also see more collaborative learning with students worldwide via video conferencing, virtual environments (i.e. Second Life) and social networking learning (i.e. Livemocha).

Overall, I think there are several factors that contribute to the definition of distance learning:  economic factors, internal and external politics, cultural and societal values and norms, corporate and organization climate and social adaptation.



Multimedia Program:  “Distance Learning Continuum” Extracted from: (Click on Week 1 Resources)

Second Life:

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

Video Program:  “Distance Education:  The Next Generation” Extracted from: (Click on Week 1 Resources)


1 Response to "Defining Distance Learning"

I was also surprised about the history of distance education. I had no idea until this class that distance education dated back all the way to 1833.

My first distance education class was a correspondence course. At the time, I thought that was the coolest thing. Of course now, I think about how antiquated that process was…using snail mail to return completed assignments to my instructor! I wonder if, one day, we will think this process, the distance education we are receiving from Walden, is antiquated?! Who knows what the future will hold!

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