Distance Learning has become a buzz word lately. Teachers are concerned about how this will affect their jobs and students are concerned about how this will affect their future. Universities have begun to incorporate distance education courses with increasing frequency. In 2010, over six million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course (Lytle, 2011). This leaves a dramatic impact on the landscape of education.
The advent of modern technology and the ability to be connected anytime, anywhere has dramatically changed the way distance education occurs. While many believe that distance education became popular shortly after Facebook changed the way we share our lives, this is simply not true. Distance education has been around since the 1800s (Laureate, 2010). It began in Europe with correspondence courses and moved into the United States around 1876. When radio became popular, distance courses were offered via radio programs, including the broadcasting of courses by Pennsylvania State (Laureate, 2010). In 1975, courses became available on VHS. As the television became more popular, distance education began its shift from radio to television.
The public broadcasting network revolutionized this process with children’s programing like Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. This has continued with documentaries on the science channel and National Geographic specials. Distance education has become so popular on television that there are entire networks dedicated to teaching adults skills, i.e. DYI and Food Network. As these shows become more popular, teachers and parents share the information they learn with children and young adults. This natural progression of education continues today.
Colleges like Walden University and the University of Phoenix offer degree programs to learners that never set foot in a brick and mortar classroom. YouTube offers a multitude of instructional videos, including one that I used to change the headlight on my car. Even the traditional public school has changed. Teachers are flipping their classrooms to be viewed by students at home. Discovery Education, National Geographic, NASA and others are offering content to students without boundaries. There are even public schools that are completely digital (Virtual Public School of North Carolina).
In this climate of change, it is natural to reflect on one’s experiences. When I began my graduate studies, I felt that distance education was a new option. I do not remember anyone calling what I did outside of class learning. Yet, we all learn via distance education. Our children watch television shows teaching them appropriate behaviors and pre-reading skills. My friend built an outdoor room with knowledge obtained from the internet. I have done my own maintenance on my car for ten years using You Tube videos. My classroom boasts a fully integrated Learning Management System that includes assessment, assignments, videos and resources. It is this reflection that has changed my myopic view of distance learning to include any learning that occurs without lectures from the teacher. There is simply a physical distance between the teacher and the learner. As the bring your own device movement takes hold and this generation of digital natives emerges from school, our view of distance education will continue to change. I cannot wait to see how our new generation changes learning to occur without boundaries and on any device you own. Someday, we may see our students learning in virtual classrooms with their counterparts around the world. Those in the poorest, most rural neighborhoods in the world will be able to benefit from highly qualified teachers (Huett, Moller, Foshay & Coleman, 2008).
Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.
Laureate Education, Inc., 2010. Distance Education. The Next Generation. [Web]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=/webapps/blackboard/execute/launcher?type=Course&id=_3396926_1&url=
Lytle, R. (2011). Study: Online Education Continues Growth. US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2011/11/11/study-online-education-continues-growth