Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Future of Distance Learning

Distance education has been a method for delivering instruction for well over a century (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Distance education has played a vital role in providing learning opportunities for individuals who might not otherwise be able to access learning due to geographic location, time, or other personal constraints (Simonson, et al., 2012). The needs or demands of individuals wishing to access learning via distance education as well as advances in technology have expanded the availability of distance learning opportunities (Simonson, et al., 2012). As distance learning opportunities continue to grow and expand so too will the perceptions of distance education.
The quality of distance learning is often called into question as concerns and perceptions arise over distance education programs being diploma mills that lack quality instruction and are not accredited (Simonson, et al., 2012). This perception however continues to be dispelled as individuals become more aware of the fact that distance education programs have the potential of being equivalent in quality as a program that takes place in a traditional face-to-face classroom (Simonson, et al., 2012). This increased awareness is as a result of some institutions being conscientious of highlighting important components of their distance programs such as being accredited, having academic rigor, and having highly qualified instructional staff (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009).
According to the Sloan Consortium (2013), in 2011 there were 6.7 million students enrolled in at least one online course. Additionally, academic leaders’ perceptions of learning outcomes in online education were surveyed and found that increasingly these leaders view online education as being comparable (Sloan Consortium, 2013). In the last decade there has been a shift in perceptions in viewing distance education more favorably.  Unfavorable perceptions of distance learning continue to be positively impacted by continued advances in technology. Technological innovations have resulted in individuals being able to communicate with others regardless of location or sometimes time which is also the essence of distance learning where in learning “occurs at different times and in different places” (Simonson, et al., p.10). Advances in and greater use of technology tools to facilitate communication has allowed individuals to gain more experience and comfort with communication mediated through technology (Laureate, n.d.). As a result these advances have helped individuals see the value and benefits of communicating at a distance which has helped increase the acceptance of distance education (Laureate, n.d.).
It is clear that distance education has grown in the last decade and will continue to grow in the next decade as well. Perceptions will continue to shift as distance education expands and is more easily accessed with technological innovations. While there appears to still be a great deal of emphasis placed on the convenience and flexibility aspect of distance learning there is a call for change in placing a greater emphasis on highlighting the academic quality and reputation on the online program and institution (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). Placing greater emphasis on quality of academic programs will continue to promote positive perceptions of distance education for prospective students, potential employers, and society as a whole. With greater acceptance and appreciation for the value of distance education it will have the potential over the course of the next twenty years for expanding existing distance learning opportunities and creating new ones as the need arises. Individuals will continue to demand high quality educational opportunities that are available in distance learning formats making learning more accessible. It will be more important than ever to ensure that as demand increases and more distance learning experiences are offered in the coming decades that the instruction is designed to create an efficient and meaningful learning experience.
Creating efficient and effective learning experiences as an instructional designer is one of the most important ways for me to further promote positive perceptions of distance learning. When designing distance learning experiences I will need to ensure that I am cognizant of the needs of the learners participating in the distance learning experience as well as any content and context factors that may influence how the instruction is designed. Being aware of the needs of the learners, the content, and the context will help me identify the most effective methods and activities for enhancing learning (Simonson, et al., 2012). I can also promote positive perceptions of distance learning by utilizing various technology tools that enhance communication in distance learning such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, or social networking (Simonson, et al., 2012). Incorporating technology tools that individuals are already comfortable using as well as other advancing communication technologies will improve the potential for greater acceptance of distance learning (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). I will also need to ensure that any distance learning experiences I develop are designed in a way that is easy to navigate for the learner and that offers support systems equivalent to what they would receive from a traditional, face-to-face classroom (Simonson, et al., 2012).   
As a distance learner myself I will also be able to use my own personal experiences to promote positive perceptions of distance learning. I will be able to provide others with insights on my experiences with distance learning along with the knowledge and skills I have developed throughout this course. I will be able to communicate more effectively going forward on the positive aspects of distance education outside of focusing on flexibility and convenience and instead highlight the quality of content and quality of interactions with instructors and fellow learners which has created a successful learning experience for me.


Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). 

Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.).  The future of distance education. [Video webcast].  Retrieved from

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

Sloan Consortium (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the united states. Retrieved from

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