Friday, November 16, 2012

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

Two thoughts should be kept in mind as we talk about the use of technology in instructional design: “Technology is not the issue.  How and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is the tool” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 172).  Also, “Distance learning courses will be carefully planned to meet the needs of the students within unique learning contexts and environments (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 174).    

These two facts help us realize that we need to match the learners and their environment to the objectives of the course.  Then we must identify the best strategy for illustrating the information we want them to learn.  It is at this point when a decision is made on the best medium and technology to help in accomplishing the learning objectives.   In this week’s multimedia program, The Technology of Distance Education, we saw different examples of technologies that may be used as tools in distance education.  These included podcats, discussion technologies, blogs, concept maps and media sharing sites. These technologies should develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, use active learning techniques, give prompt feedback, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning among others (Beldarrain, 2006). 
We are now asked to review an environment and suggest technologies that could provide the best solution to the stated situation.  Based on the scenario presented in Example 3, there is a requirement to produce an asynchronous learning solution to address safety concerns at a manufacturing plant.  The solution should be modular and illustrate best practices on how to operate many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor.  Technology can greatly help with this objective, here is how:
Let’s choose a CMS, say Moodle.  This technology will allow us to load the course, keep track of attendance, keep track of scores obtained and even create a community to continue sharing best practices among employees once the course is completed.  Individual modules should be created containing safety best practices for each of the machines on the floor.  The best way to accomplish this would be with a scripted video indicating the appropriate ways to utilize each of the machines.  This could be followed by a flash based simulation where the student is a character and needs to make choices on which action to take given different scenarios.  Another character would also be created with flash technology to act as a coach.  The coach would congratulate the learner when he/she makes the right choice or provide a full explanation of why the learner has chosen the wrong option.  Utilizing the testing function in Moodle, the learner would take a final exam and a final grade would be recorded.   Anyone achieving a grade below an established goal, would have to repeat the course.   Finally, with the integration of web 2.0 technology, a community would be created where workers can continue to communicate and share safety best best practices. 

Please listen to the podcast below entitled “Instructional Design, Learning Meets Technology” for a great explanation of how instructional designers are utilizing technology to create better solutions.


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

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Distance Learning - What is that???

I've always had a thing for Real Estate.  Back in the 80's, I saw an advertisement of a company offering a correspondence course in real estate investment.  I called, paid my $250.00 and started receiving material which included a book, exercises and a phone number to call if I had any questions.  At the end of each section, I would send back the completed exercises, until the end of the course when I got a certificate of completion.  Was this distant education? 

Let's look at the definition of distance education we learned this week: "Institution based, formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 32).  Based on this definition, I may have been exposed to distance learning, not necessarily distance education.  It is my opinion that there is a difference between the institutionalized formal distance education and learning experienced through open systems or e-learning designed to teach a particular skill or even for information purposes. As you can see from the above mind map, the components of what I see as distance education out-rigor those of online-self learning.  This difference is also noted by Dr. Simmonson in this week's video.

As we've seen, distance learning is not new.  In my opinion, the definition will not change; however, the availability of technology and worldwide communications is changing the playing field while bringing about challenges and implications to the overall education system, the instructor and the instructional designer. 

Online learning is in tuned with the any time, any where concept.  Through technology, today's workforce is working more and more on a work any time, any where basis.  As this becomes more the practice than then exception, professionals in need of furthering their education are turning to distance education, as it fits into their lives and working model.  Corporations are turning to online learning, mainly for savings and economic reasons; as they can make education available to employees at any time, save on travel, avoid productivity losses and train many on a single solution (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008).   Distance education is also playing a role in the  K-12 space as instructors and educational institutions try to map the digital world in which students live to what they experience while they learn (Berk, 2010). 

As you can see from the mind map above, there are several advantages and disadvantages to online learning.  None the less, it is important to look at some of the implications this type of learning brings about.  In the K-12 space, students are growing up in the digital age; but does this necessarily mean that they are ready for distance education? Again, if we look at above diagram, under the "learners" category, can we consider K-12 learners ready for distance learning? I'd dare to think that although online programs are emerging for K-12 students, technology should be used as an aid to teach these students, but a full distance education program for K-12 has many implications; including skillset of instructors and instructional designers,  which I don't beleive have been addressed yet.  In the corporate environment, there is major concern in terms of the quality of solutions developed and assessment methods (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008).  Similar implications exist in the higher education arena going from quality, instructor training, program recognition, appropriate utilization of available technology, student interactions, collaboration and more (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008)

So, what is the future of distance learning? I can only assume that it will continue to grow and numerous efforts will continue to be made in order to achieve what I consider to be the most important component of such an environment:  providing a high level of education while maintaining student engagement.  Such can only happen when a system is in place which promotes the success factors listed on above.  Based on my own experience, distance learning and distance education are both possible and giant steps have been taken towards appropriate utilization of technology.  I believe it is evolving and definitely the way of the future. For more on this topic and to gather others' opinions on this matter, have a look at the following video. It takes a bit over an hour to watch, but I feel it is time well spent.



Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: training and development). Tech Trends, 52(3), 70-75.
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). Tech Trends, 52(4), 66-70.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). Tech Trends, 52(5), 63-67.

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

Berk, R.A (2010). How do you leverage the latest technologies, including Web 2.0 tools in your classroom? International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 6(1), 1-13