I don’t consider myself to be old; yet, if I look at the changes in college education since the start of my college days in 1991, I might as well have been in college with Fred Flinstone! Education is so drastically different now. Perhaps the biggest educational change has been the creation and evolution of distance education. I think that there are more changes to come for distance education. In addition, I’d like to discuss the ways that I (as an instructional designer) can have a positive influence on the future of distance education.
Scott Howell, PhD, Peter Williams, MS, and Nathan Lindsay, MS, state that education had become more consumer driven, learner centered, and self-directed. (Howell, Williams, M.S., & Lindsay, M.S., 2003) My personal experience certainly bears witness to this trend. In mid-2006, I took my first distance learning course. Over the next three and a half years, I completed my Associate’s Degree and then my Bachelor’s Degree via distance learning. After a four year hiatus I started on my Master’s degree, again via distance learning. Over this 9 year period, I have taken classes through 3 different institutions, and each experience has gotten progressively more challenging. Going hand and hand with this, Howell, Williams, and Lindsay also feel that education has become more competency based, moving away from memorization and testing. (Howell, Williams, M.S., & Lindsay, M.S., 2003) Again, from my own experience, this does appear to be true. As these changes continue to occur, I think that any remaining stigma that online education is inferior to brick and mortar education will disappear. I think that distance learning will become a normal way of learning for nearly all people who want a college education. Even those who attend traditional campus courses may find that several of their courses are distance learning (or blended) courses.
In 2008, Ismail Sahin and Mack Shelley did a study on learners’ satisfaction with distance learning. The most general summary of their results was that when students can successfully use online tools and feel that the education is a useful and flexible way to learn they have high levels of satisfaction. (Sahin & Shelley, 2008) Using this finding, I can influence people’s perceptions about distance education by designing courses that meet these standards. I can make sure that I provide resources to students who struggle with the online technology. I can make sure that I provide background and well written performance objectives so that students understand the “why”. I can create challenging activities that center whenever possible on the learners’ personal background and experiences. Distance learning provides a lot of flexibility for learners but I can also make sure that my schedules are as flexible as possible. When students finish a class feeling like they have been challenged but learned something, they will share their experiences, thus benefitting the entire distance learning community. I can also share my own positive experiences with distance education; I hope that when people hear that I (a single mom of 5+ kids who works full-time) was successful with distance education, they will feel inspired to achieve their educational dreams too.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” (Franklin) There are a few things that I can do to be a positive force for continuous improvement in distance education. First, while I am a student, I can provide constructive feedback (both positive and negative) about the courses that I am participating in whenever possible. This might be as easy as completing the end of course surveys or emailing the professor regarding a specific assignment. As an instructional designer and instructor, I can ask others for their opinions, and then I can listen intently with an open mind to their suggestions. I can share my best practices with other instructional designers, and I can use theirs as well. I can remember that to make a product learner-centered, I must actually design it for the learner and not for me.
As I stated in the beginning of this blog post, distance education has come a long way in a very short period of time, but I don’t think that it is done changing yet. I think it will become even more learner-centered and even less stigmatized. As an instructional designer there are some very important things that I can do to help distance education move along its journey. I hold this as an important job and look forward to being part of this exciting process.
Franklin, B. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Brainy Quote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr387287.html?src=t_improvement
Howell, S. L., Williams, M.S., P. B., & Lindsay, M.S., N. K. (2003, Fall). Thirty-two trends affecting distance education: An informed foundation for strategic planning. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html
Sahin, I., & Shelley, M. (2008). Considering students’ perceptions: The distance education student satisfaction model. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Educational Technology & Society: http://www.ifets.info/journals/11_3/15.pdf