Life by Design

Posts Tagged ‘Distance Learning

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 2.23.19 PM In this day and age, ‘innovation’ is certainly the buzz word especially  with new modes of educational delivery given the discovery that in a myriad of ways that traditional models are not serving the student and preparing them for their role in the 21st Century global marketplace. While we need to embrace traditional learning theories, we need to build new houses on these trusted foundations. Houses that are engaging, collaborative, social, and challenging students to use knowledge to solve real world problems. Many instructors of varied content areas are looking for new ways to develop and deliver courses. We are no exception here at the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon. We specialize in developing new and better ways to teach foreign languages.

In this article I want to share three current challenges as we move forward with developing online modules in Chinese and soon, Swahili.

  1. The team is challenged to grow and it is human nature to take a step forward into the unknown and then shrink back to the familiar
  2. Blending two theoretical models – Instructional Design and Foreign Language Acquisition Learning Theory
  3. Preparing students in advance to become independent learners as opposed to the historical model where the teacher is the only resource for learning

Our Chinese content team consists mostly of native Chinese speakers, all of whom are well-educated and trained by the best standards. Now, that we are in the stream of innovation, it is a challenge to have this team try out completely new models of educational delivery with some of the most creative Web 2.0 tools available. In the face of change, it is human nature to intellectually want to change and grow, but on other levels we often retreat to what’s familiar. We want to create something ‘insanely great’ to quote Steve Jobs, yet how far can we push the envelope? How can we stay grounded in fundamentals, yet take the roof off of brick and mortar instruction so that students and instructors can breathe?

The second challenge is to mesh two theoretical models, one of Instructional Design and the other of Foreign Language Acquisition . We think we have discovered some points where these two models touch, but again are breaking very new ground.  Our desire is to deliver something completely new and different. Can we take the best of both models and find a way to fit one with the other for a dynamic delivery?

Lastly, it is no secret that students of today for the most part have been taught by traditional means and rely on the teacher to not only be the sole deliverer of content, but to also be the subject matter expert. If nudged in a new direction to see themselves as responsible for not only the quantity of their learning, but the quality of their experience, can and will they do it? Self-discipline and self-motivation are traits that some naturally are born with and others acquire meeting the vicissitudes of life. We plan to meet our student cohort early in the development of our project and discuss this topic among others. It is my hope to prepare them mentally and emotionally to take an evolutionary leap forward in becoming in charge of the quality of their own learning experience. I do not think this is too much to ask. In my own academic life, the points of greatest satisfaction.




I chose to take a look at and specifically their selection of Italian courses.  At first glance, for an adult learner wanting to learn some interesting new things, the site in general offers a great deal of resources from a recommended book list to ‘smart’ YouTube sites.  As an adult who enjoys learning and keeping up with things, I found plenty to explore and in my free time, which I anticipate having when, I am about 85 I plan to pursue more of it!

Looking into the Italian course selection however, it was disappointing when we look at it through the lens of our distance learning guidelines as offered in our course resource  (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright,  & Zcavek, 2009).

When you click on the site, there’s simply a list of websites to different Italian courses with little explanation of how they differentiate.  There is no instruction about how to navigate the sites or to orient and instruct the new user on what exactly a ‘podcast’ is or how to download from iTunes.    I didn’t see much evidence of the developer asking the question, “What does the learner need?” in order to be successful on the site.  There was no survey offered to assess prior learning of foreign languages or working with technology.   The only option is receiving a ‘podcast’, so for the learners with other learning style and preferences, I think this site will be disappointing and non-engaging. I find myself becoming more and more a strong advocate for the learner as I consider distance education design.

When I went to the site, www., (Radio Lingua Network) I found a blog format that was intermingled with 20 weeks of daily lessons.  With a lack of menus for navigation, I had to wade through over a dozen webpages to get to the beginning of the course.   Once there, it wasn’t entirely clear whether I needed to download the podcast directly from iTunes or the site.  I clicked on a hot download link on the site and found I could get to a ‘preview’ iTunes site where all the lessons were posted.  I listened to the first lesson delivered by an Irishman with a reasonable Italian accent.  The lesson was quick, less than 5 minutes and taught exactly three phrases.  This is fine for the adult learner, who is busy and has the specific aim of learning just enough Italian perhaps to visit Italy one day.  Adult learning theory is utilized in that the course could be customized just to give the learner exactly what they need to satisfy their learning needs.

The site is not intended to be a true distance learning course and therefore, it does not offer a syllabus, collaborative learning opportunities, threaded discussions or learning activities.  If you want to pay about $45 dollars for a premium membership, you can get download a PDF to augment the lessons.   This brings up the debate about Open Source being a non-commercial enterprise. (Fitzgerald, Hissam, & Lakani, 2005, p.332).

There is a new posting on the blog for a Twitter application that can be sent to you to test your daily recall.  This is an interesting idea. There is no rubric, grading standards or expectations for the course.  It’s all up to you.  And that’s what an Open Source education site is for…it is up to you to explore and create your learning on your terms, on your time.


Fitzgerald, B, Hissam, S., Lakhani, K. (2005) Perspectives on free and open source software. MIT Press. (P.332) Extracted from:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson. (Ch. 5 & 9)