“As a matter of fact, it is very clear that instruction delivered to distant learners is effective and that learning outcomes can be successfully attained when offered to students at a distance” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012). That being said, why isn’t distance learning the preferred method of learning? Sho & Berge, 2002 speak of categorizing barriers to distance learning into 10 categories:
1. Technical expertise, support and infrastructure
2. Administrative structure3. Evaluation/effectiveness
4. Organizational change
5. Social interaction and quality
6. Student Support Services
7. Threatened by technology
9. Faculty compensation and time
10. Legal issues
If I had to prioritize these barriers, I would say number one would be Social Interaction and quality. I feel that this is the category which mostly influences perception of distance learning. What will happen over the next 5 to ten years? According to George Siemen’s video, technology is becoming more reliable and continues to provide a channel for establishing meaningful relationships online; making distance education more and more acceptable each day. As distance education, through technology, could still be considered a young concept, I think it is during the next 10 to 20 years that the foundation will be set for it to take off. Namely, the social interaction barrier will be next to nonexistent, given people’s total acceptance of meaningful online relationships. At that point, the existing generation of technically savvy learners will demand the type of learning experience which can best be achieved through online learning. That being said, I feel that over the next 10 to 20 years, given learner’s technological expertise, reliability of technology and learners’ acceptance of online relationships, online learning will become a leading if not the leading method of choice for education. Given their characteristics, as explained by the principle of Andragogy within Adult Learning Theory (Conlan, Grbowski & Smith, 2003), adult learners will remain the largest consumers of distance education.
Societal perception of distance learning will only improve as people try it and find it to be a meaningful experience. Instructional designers play a key role in both of those aspects. Part of our jobs entails suggesting the best delivery method for solutions we are asked to develop. This is our opportunity to suggest online or distance learning and make it visible as a viable and beneficial option. Once we have the buy in, then we have to develop good solutions, founded on appropriate learning theories which are engaging and meaningful to the audience. Just talking about it and selling the concept is not enough.
As instructional designers, not only are we chartered with selling the distance learning concept and producing good solutions, but we also play a major role in the continuous improvement of distance education. We have to continue to look for ways to break down the barriers mentioned before. We need to develop solutions which utilize technology as a resource and exemplify the value of online learning, we have to constantly develop evaluation strategies; both formative and summative, in order to improve quality, we have to pay special attention to the organizational changes within our work settings and become change agents through our trainings and we need to work with those who feel threatened by a new technology driven learning environment. Most of all, we need to ground our work on solid distance learning theory. To me, it is all about engaging the learner through communication and interaction. I am a fan of The Theory of Interaction and Communication (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012), as it is based on “feelings of belonging and cooperation as well as to the actual exchange of questions, answers and arguments in mediated communication” Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 p. 48). Think about it; isn’t that the foundation for success of distance learning?
Cho, S. K., & Berge, Z. L. (2002). Overcoming barriers to distance training and education. USDLA Journal, 16(1), 16-34.
Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects. coe. uga. edu/epltt.
Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (2012) The Future of Online Learning [Video]. George Siemens