If distance education in the past looked like this:

Correspondence courses delivered by the US Postal Service.

And distance learning in the present looks like this:

Technology enabled, but bounded by negative perceptions regarding effectiveness and authenticity.  It is the responsibility of the education community to counter-act this perception.  Distance learning expert George Siemens, Assoc Dir. Research and Technology Learning Technologies Centre University of Minitoba, tells us that there is a growing acceptance of distance education which is being fueled by:

  • The increase in online communication
  • Practical experience with new tools
  • Growing sense of comfort with online discourse
  • Ability to communicate with diverse and global groups (and with groups that were previously fairly secluded, with fairly private conversations)

Reference: Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education [Motion picture].

Educators need to adopt a voice of authority and professionalism which informs the public regarding the contribution being made by distance learning.  They need to encourage people talk to someone who has experienced distance learning and, to try distance learning themselves.

Maybe distance learning in the distance will look like . . . hmm

Well, it will definitely be housed in the cloud

Educause defined the cloud as “In its broadest usage, the term cloud computing refers to the delivery of scalable IT resources over the Internet, as opposed to hosting and operating those resources locally, such as on a college or university network. Those resources can include applications and services, as well as the infrastructure on which they operate.”

Why it matters (also from Educause):”Colleges and universities are expected to provide a wide and growing array of technology services, some of which are highly specialized or idiosyncratic to individual campuses, whereas others simply need to be available. By offering commodity services over the Internet, cloud computing offers one way for institutions to increase operational efficiency and focus scarce resources on services that are institutional differentiators.”


And as far as physical and technological infrastructure.  This list was given by Chris Dede in an article entitled

Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles

  • Wireless everywhere: Provide total coverage of the campus; subsidize uniform MWDs offering convergence of media (phone, PDA, gaming, Internet).
  • Multipurpose habitats: Create layered/blended/personalizable places rather than specialized locations (such as computer labs).
  • Augmented reality: Experiment with smart objects and intelligent contexts (via GPS and RFID tags and transceivers).
  • Mirroring: Experiment with virtual environments that replicate physical settings but also provide “magical” capabilities for immersive experience.

. . . students of all ages with increasingly neomillennial learning styles will be drawn to colleges and universities that have these capabilities.”


In the distance, distance learning might be interested folks meeting in a virtual learning/teaching environment as they do in SecondLife?

Although I have found SecondLife to be a great place to meet people and listen to presentations, I’m still having a difficult time figuring out how to use it in an instructional design.

Will distance learning become a community of folks looking down into their machines instead of looking up into another person’s eyes?

“According to the 2009 Parent-Teen Cell Phone Survey, American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media — as much time as they spend in school. Even more remarkably, they multitask across screens to cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. More and more of these activities are happening on smartphones equipped with audio, video, SMS, and hundreds of thousands of apps. (as reported on MOBL21 The Mobile Learning Blog”


So, distance learning will be mobile:

Let’s talk about the tools that will be used in the distance.  Some of them are called New Media.

New Media’s Fundamental Place in e-Learning

September 30, 2010

“Like the technologies that preceded it – print, radio, television – New Media is set to change our lives and our learning in fundamental ways. Never before have we had such a great variety of educational tools at our disposal so inexpensively and so widely available. We can reach out to our customers, clients, and students almost anywhere in the world with the touch of button.

New Media consists of four pillars:

  • Online video sharing sites, such as YouTube,
  • Podcasting , which allows the automatic delivery of audio and video to listeners and viewers,
  • Live video streaming, such as uStream.tv and Justin.tv, and
  • Social media, that is, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other such services.

All of these together form New Media – new ways of delivering information and interacting with our audience, whoever or wherever they might be.

As with any new technology, inertia and fear threaten to limit our use of these tools. We spend months and years evaluating, analyzing and investigating, but end up doing very little. As with other educational tools, you must engage with New Media to find its usefulness to you and your students.” (as cited in Learning Solutions Magazine)


Addressing learner concerns

Although distance learning is certainly going to play a big role in learning in the distance, there are some learner concerns which will have to be addressed by the educational community.  Some of these concerns were discovered during research done by Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001).

  • Not enough interaction with instructor
  • Not enough interaction with other students
  • Worry that students may not have attributes that contribute to success in the distance learning environment

Article: Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001). Distance learning: Issues and concerns of distance learners. Journal of Industrial Technology, 17(3). Retrieved from http://atmae.org/jit/Articles/schmidt041801.pdf

As instructional designers and instructors, we must be mindful of this message from Mobil21:

“While technology provides us with enormous possibility, it must be remembered that users may be limited by personal experiences and capabilities. For adaptation and success in mobile learning, it is important to ensure that people who are using the technology are on board one hundred percent.”