Reflection: Perceptions of Distance Education and the Instructunal Designer Role

IntroductionThe horizon

Simonson (1999) explained “if distance education to be widely accepted and routinely available it must be high quality, easily obtained, and familiar to those in need” (p. 7-8). As there is constant change in economics, technology, society, politics, and theories of learning, we will need to continuously examine the practice of distance education, the definitions, and the theories (Simonson, et al., 2012). In this blog, I will examine: what will the perception of distance learning be in the future, what is my role as an instructional designer in improving societal perceptions of distance learning, and how this role would improve the societal perceptions of distance learning.

The Perception of Distance Education

Globe on a laptopThe demand for distance learning is growing in almost all regions, nationally and internationally (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b). Dr. Siemens in his video about the future in distance education explained that there is a growing acceptance of distance education; this growth is stimulated by the increase in online communication tools and the ability to communicate globally with diverse groups (Laureate Education Inc., 2010).  Furthermore, there is more acceptance for distance education from the people who explored online learning (Laureate Education Inc., 2010). Many factors are going to affect the way distance education is going; in particular, the development of new technology and communication tools, the contributions from experts around the world, and the increased use of multimedia and simulations (Laureate Education Inc., 2010).

All these factors will support the growth of distance education for the coming 5 to 10 years; certainly, this growth will have a global impact. For example, massive online open courses (MOOCs), which are taught by many experts, are offered to learners from around the world for free.

After examining the answers to interview questions about how various people perceive distance education and why, it became apparent that people have conflicted perceptions about distance education. People who had distance teaching or learning experiences were more positive in their perceptions; they indicated that they could continue learning at a distance. On the other hand, people who had no experience with online learning were skeptical about it effectiveness and its future benefits. They had concerns about the role of the instructor, academic integrity and its competence (Moller, Foshay, & Huett 2008a). For the future, it is important to note the role of the institution in presenting distance education; institutions should focus on emphasizing the quality, curriculum and the role of faculty in their distance education programs (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). This could help reduce concerns about distance learning and I believe that the skeptical about distance learning will disappear in 10 to 20 years; many learners and instructors will experience distance learning and there will be more learning experiences through the distance learning environment. As indicated by Dr. Simonson, distance learning will not replace face-to-face learning (Luareate Education Inc., n.d.).

The Role of the Instructional Designer in Improving the Perception of Distance Learning

Laptop with on screen files and images

I believe that, as an instructional designer, I should have a role in improving the social perceptions of distance learning. Quality is a vital factor that I will consider when designing or recommending teaching strategies. Moller et al. (2008a) explained that, with the accelerated growth of online learning, many institutions will be rushing to implement distance learning programs. It is then my responsibility to ensure that the programs are built on reasonable quality standards, participate in the policy development of distance learning, and develop competences (Moller et al., 2008a). An example of a quality standard is the Quality Matter Program Rubric; the rubric includes 41 performance standards that could be used to assess the quality of online courses (MarylandOnline, 2011).

Equally important, as an instructional designer, I need to conduct a thorough needs assessment before planning, designing or recommending training solutions (Moller et al., 2008a). In higher education, some faculty members may have some concerns which could affect their perception on distance education. For example, they may be concerned about the effort needed to design and plan distance learning courses which they perceive as more workload than the traditional face-to-face classroom (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b). As an instructional designer, my role is to work closely with faculty members and “create a clear framework outlining the goals, delivery, and structure of the e-learning program with clear benchmarks for success” (Moller et al., 2008b, p. 69).

Students perceive distance education as a way to help them take more courses and reduce the overall workload (House, Weldon, & A women holding a baby and a laptop on her lapWysocki, 2007). Students who took online courses are more comfortable and have more understanding of the concerns associated with distance learning (Schmidt & Gallegos, 2001). Some of these concerns are about communicating with the instructor, integrity, and lack of organization (Schmidt & Gallegos, 2001). It is my role, as an instructional designer, to provide learning solutions that could enhance the students’ learning experience. This could be done by using research based perspectives on how learners learn (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008) and present the findings to administrators and subject matter experts. It is my role to help students to understand their role and responsibility in the learning process (Simonson et al., 2012) as well. For example, I could create tutorials to help them understand the various technology tool associated with the distance course; moreover, I could recommend and design online orientations on how to successfully communicate online and manage their time effectively (Simonson et al., 2012).

The Instructional Designer as a Positive Force for Continuous Improvement in the Field of Distance Education

 To continue improving the field of distance education, I need to keep informed with the best practices in the field through ongoing research.  In addition, I need to be a change agent and work closely with the subject matter experts to help them in recognizing the value of distance education (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). I believe that I should continually work on enhancing the teaching and learning aspects of distance learning through supported assessment and evaluation; additionally, I should contribute to the global academic growth through the educational social networks and communities. Finally, continue being a learner in my professional work and taking part of the global and inclusive learning communities.

In conclusion, I believe that distance education will continue to thrive in the coming  years along with the traditional face-to-face education. This could be in the form of both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. The more people get familiar with distance education the more they accept distance learning as an alternative way of learning.

References:

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 http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html

House, L., Weldon, R., & Wysocki, A. (2007). Student perceptions of online distance education in undergraduate agricultural economic programs. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 39(2), 275-284.

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), 63–6 7.

Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1373693_1%26url%3D

Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: Higher Education, K–12, and the corporate world [Video webcast]. Retrieved from  https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1373693_1%26url%3D

MarylandOnline (2011). Quality Matter Rubric. Retrieved from http://www.qmprogram.org/files/QM_Standards_2011-2013.pdf

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008a). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008b). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

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

Simonson, M. (1999). Equivalency theory and distance education. TechTrends 43(5), 5-8.

[Untitled image of a globe on a laptop]. Retrieved October 28, 2012 from http://horizoninternationalschools.com/about/who-we-are/

[Untitled image of a woman holding a baby and a laptop on her lap]. Retrieved October 28, 2012 from http://www.gw.edu/academics/off/online/

[Untitled image of a laptop with images and files open in the screen]. Retrieved October 28, 2012 from http://www.gw.edu/academics/off/online/

[Untitled image of the horizon]. Retrieved October 28, 2012 from http://www.picassodreams.com/photos/sunsets/setting-sun-in-the-horizon.html

Best Practices Guide: Converting to a Distance Learning Format

This blog post provides best practices guide for trainers to help them in converting their face-to-face training to a hybrid model. The example given is based on the following scenario:

A training manager is planning to convert all current training modules to a blended learning environment. The trainer’s decisions is based the frustration with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions. The trainer gets his supervisor’s approval and hopes that converting to the blended environment will enhance student engagement through active participation and interactions. The trainer would like to put the course content on the Web, so learners could access the content at all times.

The guide provides best practices in the following areas:

  • Facilitating communication and learning
  • Pre-planning strategies
  • Converting the content
  • The trainer’s new role

A successful online or hybrid course should incorporate teaching strategies that enhance learner-learner interactions, learner-content interactions and learner-instructor interactions (Dashew & Lee, 2011). This guide will help trainers in planning and preparing materials for electronic delivery. In addition, the guide will explain the role of a distance educator, and provide best practices in enhancing student engagement through the effective use of various communication strategies.

View The complete trainer guide (PDF Format).

References:

Dashaw, B., & Lee, R. (2011). Designed learner interactions in blended course delivery. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 15(1), 68-76.

[Untitled image for a hand and a digital hand representing hybrid courses]. Retrieved October 20, 2012 from http://www.collegeonline.com/uncategorized/hybrid-and-online-classes-from-traditional-colleges/

The Impact of Open Source: Evaluating an Open Course

The purpose of this blog post is to explain the pre-planning and designing approaches for an open course. The post will evaluate the open course in terms of following recommended learning instruction and including learning activities which promote students’ active learning. The open course that I selected is through UDACITY, the course is Introduction to Computer Science (CS101): Building a Search Engine ( http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/cs101/CourseRev/apr2012 ).

The Course is Carefully Pre-Planned and Designed Course Design Circle
Through the pre-planning phase of designing a course it is important to introduce a complete well designed syllabus that could serve as a road map to the learners and guide them through their learning journey (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Once you click on the course overview link you notice that there is a tremendous effort put into pre-planning and designing the course. The overview page lists clearly the objectives of the course, a complete syllabus with details about each unit, and small statement to encourage beginners to join the course, stating that there is no prior experience needed for the course (UDACITY, 2012). Instructors in online courses need to help learners to stay organized throughout the course; they need to list clear objectives for the course and provide a detailed syllabus to guide the learners (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

Going through the course module, the content is presented in multiple ways; the instructors used videos, animation, and text. In addition, the content is designed within a well defined structure; each unit has topics and activities that support the predefined objectives. Dr. Piskurich (n.d.) indicated that the first step to develop a carefully planned course is to develop clear objectives and choose tasks that support these objectives (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

The instructors in this open course used the Unit-Module-Topic (UMT) approach in designing the course content, which is an organizational approach recommended by Simonson et al. (2012). In addition, the content is delivered in a variety of ways; the instructors used video, animation and many graphical representations (Simonson et al., 2012) which kept me engaged throughout each topic. However, I believe that there are many topics listed under each module, and the labels for each topic do not clearly explain the content of each topic; this could raise questions by the learners (Kelly, 2012) and could be distracting. In terms of assessment, the instructors used one questions for each topic; Simonson et al. (2012) explained that there should be “at least one learning outcome for each course topic” (p.181).

Online ActivtiesCourse Activities

Active learning means that the learners need to be involved in their own learning (Simonson et al., 2012). The course incorporate tracking progress indicator; once completed each topic is marked as finished; moreover the course has a page that displays a list of the progress made. The access to the course content and activities is non-leaner; as this is a self-paced course this design of the content supports the purpose of the course as an open and self-paced course. The course designer incorporated interactive quizzes with feedback available through audio and interactive modules. The designer included two different ways for collaboration, a discussion area and a wiki. The discussion is designed to engage the students through questions and answers; the wiki is a collaborative tool which enables students to build resources as supplementary resources to the course; this kind of collaboration promotes flexibility and creates a dynamic learning community (Simonson et al., 2012).

In conclusion, the open course incorporated many successful design concepts. The course is very well structured with various visual and interactive modules. In addition, it included many activities to engage the learners using various concepts and learning strategies.

References

Kelly, B. (2012, September 17). Simplifying online course design [Blog message]. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/blog/teaching-and-learning/simplifying-online-course-design/
Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1373693_1%26url%3D
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
UDICITY. (2012). Introduction to computer science (CS101): Building a search engine. Retrieved from http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/cs101/CourseRev/apr2012
[Untitled image of a course design circle]. Retrieved from http://microteachingsecaramakro.blogspot.ca/
[Untitled image of the globe with three online learners connected]. Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~icy/resources/tutorial/activities.html

Collaborative Training Environment

This blog post addresses the training solution for a newly purchased information system in a major corporation. The learners are located in different locations and cannot meet at the same time. The staff needs to share information in the form of screen captures and documents; in addition, they are required to participate in ongoing collaboration. To fulfill these needs, the instructional designer is utilizing technology tools, which enable collaboration and document sharing through an asynchronous learning environment.

Google Docs

Google Docs

GOOGLE DOCS

One of the powerful Web 2.0 tools in document sharing is Google Docs; it enables learners to save documents online; the document could be shared by selecting the “Share” feature which generates a unique web link that could be sent via email to the learners (Kostina, 2012). Google Docs includes spreadsheets, presentations, documents, and forms; participants can either edit content or just view the final documents (O Broin & Raftery, 2011). The documents could be saved as PDF or shared as a web page for everyone to view (O Broin & Raftery, 2011). In addition to sharing a document, learners could open the link and collaboratively work on the same document to modify and add information (Kostina, 2012). Participants can work synchronously and asynchronously on these documents.

One of the very effective learning strategies is project-based learning; for example, participants in the training program could work together to provide solutions to case studies and/or present findings. Through Google Docs, participants could create schedules using the spread sheets feature, edit presentations and share documents related to their training. In addition, it is easy to share screen shots and images in the online shared document.

Drawings and Charts in Google Docs

Drawings and Charts in Google Docs

Through a case study, O Broin and Raftery (2011) concluded that participants found Google Docs very useful in their project-based tasks as they were able to work remotely on a document from various locations. Furthermore, once instructors are granted an access to the shared document they could provide instant feedback through inserting comments; in addition, they can review the history of revisions and flag any lack of participation (O Broin & Raftery, 2011). In a training program, facilitators then can recognize the needs and could motivate the learners to participate and direct them to proper resources.

WIKIS

Wikis is another collaborative tool that could enable participants to compile information into a shared online website (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Wiki platforms are provided through course management systems which could be a tool to enhance the learners’ interaction in online learning courses. In addition, there are many wiki providers like Wikispaces ; here are some examples of educational wikis.

As the learners are separated by location and time; and there is no shared physical workplace, conversations can accrue among the users of the wiki as they view the same content and engage in conversations that could motivate them through their professional development training (Lightle, 2010). Through wikis, participants can create and edit instant web pages and embed screen shots, list challenges and share their experiences (Lightle, 2010) related to the training. The final product site is a collection of challenges, experiences and suggestions that all learners could refer to when needed throughout the training.

Wikis

Wikis

In a project supported by the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the Technology-Enhanced collaborative group work project, DeGrace (n.d.) explained that wikis brought the class together. Moreover, it enabled them to understand the various elements of the course and helped them in keeping track of what they are doing and what everyone else in the course is doing (DeGrace, n.d.), here is an overview of the project.

To build an online professional network, the Middle School Portal 2 (MSP2) group used wikis to embed live feeds from various website which provided learners with up-to-date information from various resources; all are collected in a page of wiki (Lightle, 2010). In addition, learners can get notification through email when there are new contents posted to the wiki.

Using a new staff automated information system could be challenging; employees may lose interest and motivation in completing online learning. Technology tools could provide a sense of community and provide support to enhance the learning experience. It is the responsibility of the instructional designer to understand the learners’ needs and provide venues for them to collaborate, share experiences, ask questions and continue learning.

References:

DeGrace, K. (n.d.). Awardees’ stories about using group assignments. Retrieved from http://engage.wisc.edu/collaboration/stories/#3

Kostina, M. (2012, June 13). 10 free, must have web 2.0 tools for your teaching & training needs [Blog message]. Retrieved from http://effectiveonlineteaching.org/2012/06/13/10-free-must-have-web-2-0-tools-for-your-teaching-training-needs/

Lightle, K. (2010). Using social media to build an online professional learning network of middle level educators. Knowledge Quest, 39(2), 48–53.

O Broin, D., & Raftery, D. (2011). Using Google Docs to support project-based learning. All Irlend Journal for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3(1), 1-11.

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

[Untitled image of multiple documents in Google docs]. Retrieved September 23, 2012 from http://www.google.com/google-d-s/b1.html

[Untitled image of drawings and charts created in Google Docs]. Retrieved September 23, 2012 from http://sixrevisions.com/project-management/6-tips-to-help-you-get-the-most-out-of-google-docs/

[Untitled image of characters standing on puzzle pieces]. Retrieved September 23, 2012 from http://driscoll-class.wikispaces.com/Wikis+in+Education

Defining Distance Learning

earth and mouse

I first understood the value of distance learning when I was offered access to hundreds of online training modules through my employer, the US Department of State, between the years 1994 and 2003. The training included modules on learning advanced software programs and customer service support. The modules were self paced without any interactions with an instructor or other learners; in addition, it was content based. I appreciated that I can learn on my own, using my computer, without having to go to a class or spend hours commuting to a training centre. From this, I shaped my first definition of distance learning which is learning happens in different geographical location, through the Internet, and is designed to reach out to professionals who want to advance their education and knowledge.

Years later I took my first online course in project management through a distance education institution. Through the course, I used a learning management system, interacted with my instructor and collaborated with students throughout the course. I realized the differences between distance education and distance learning. Distance education is provided through traditional educational schools and colleges (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012); while distance learning is based on self study and could be done through nonacademic organizations (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.; Simonson et al., 2012). Through exploring Web 2.0 tools, I also realized the differences between synchronous and asynchronous learning, and that learning could be separated by time in addition to geography (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). While searching institutions to pursue my graduate studies, I realized the importance of credibility and quality of study which is granted through accreditation (Simonson et al., 2012).

It was interesting to explore the many dimensions and definitions of distance education this week and how it developed from being correspondence study, then through open universities in Europe and then virtually through the Internet in the last decade (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Distance education can be defined when learning happens through educational institutions, when the teacher and students are geographically separated, through interactive telecommunication and in a learning community (Simonson et al., 2012). Another emerging definition by Edwards (1995) is that distance learning happens with a focus on individual needs and local requirements (as cited in Simonson et al., 2012). Distance learning could also happen virtually by using technology in the education process (Simonson et al., 2012).

Distance Learning

My definition now about distance learning is that it is not about transferring knowledge and presenting content, but it provides resources like public funds to homeschooled students and students in rural areas (Huett, Moller, Foshay & Coleman, 2008). Distance learning is a two-way communication between the student (s) and instructor using technology. I believe that the evolution of technology (Simonson et al., 2012), financial consideration and competition among institutions (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b) in organizations are fundamental factors, which will affect the evolution of distance education and distance learning. Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, and Stevens (2012) explained that successful and award winning online courses are the ones that provide students with real-life experience through collaboration and social interactions. Technology could increase the interaction and collaborative work among learners (Simonson et al., 2012) which enhances the distance learning experience. For example, now as I am pursuing my graduate studies I experienced being in a community of learners, learning by solving problems and applying the new knowledge to real-life application that I could use in work. Furthermore, I learn by exploring tools and resources that could help me in my learning experience and my personal and professional life.

Moreover, I believe distance learning could be designed to be accessible as many of the technology tools used in blended courses and online courses could be accessible, like using closed captions and designing accessible HTML web pages. In my institution, as I set on committees related to accessibility and the universal design for learning; I see that there is growing demand to create policies and procedures to support distance learning. Equally important, is to provide proper training and support for instructors and training providers (Moller et al., 2008b). Moreover, there should be a need to focus on quality, better evaluation systems and complete analysis of the learners’ needs (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008a). Additionally, as technology is expanding and there are many web-based communication and social tools, learning solutions should be based on extensive research (Huett et al., 2008). I now believe that distance learning will expand to include not just older adults in remote areas but to everyone, everywhere and all ages (USDLA, 2009).

Image of distance learners with an image of the world's map in the background

As there is a growing demand for distance learning in the corporate world, higher education institutions and K-12 schools, I believe that distance learning will continue to grow (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Therefore, distance education will be incorporated in various learning environments; it will be expected and respected (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

 

 

References:

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), 63–6 7.
Laureate Education Inc., (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video]. Baltimore, MD : Simonson, M.
Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008a). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.
Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008b). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
USDLA (2009). Distance learning: Enabling the race to the top. Retrieved from http://www.usdla.org/assets/pdf_files/Distance_Learning_Briefing.pdf
[Untitled image of distance learners with a background of a map]. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://myschool30.com/category/distance-education/
[Untitled image of tablet, book and pen]. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://pconlineworld.com/e-learning
[Untitled image of earth and mouse]. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://www.ncc.commnet.edu/dept/distancelearning/default.asp

Distance Education

I am glad that I will start again using my blog. I created this blog for a previous course about “Learning Theories,”  I was hoping to be able to post on a regular basis after the course, but was not able to do so. The posts now will focus on exploring distance education. I look forward to reading your comments and feedback. Click here to read about me.