Are Changes In Store for “Distance Education”?

Distance Education is a broad term that covers a lot of ground – everything from a remote campus connected to a hub campus via video cameras to a totally online, self-guided learning module.  I am beginning to wonder if we will start to see a greater divide between the two most popular modes – video meetings at a distance and online “anytime, anywhere” learning.

In other words, will future course catalogs start dividing courses between synchronous and asynchronous courses instead of the standard online vs. in-class designations?

Let’s face it – the killer value of online learning is the “anytime, anywhere” aspect of it.  I’ve actually dropped an online course before because it required two face-to-face meetings a week. If I could make those meetings, I would have just signed up for a degree with a local college instead of going the online route.

Here’s my question: is it really fair to students to label a class as “online” if it requires some kind of regular, synchronous video session?  I would venture to say that is a little misleading – just taking into account the current view of what “online” means.  Most web sites out there are asynchronous in nature, so I believe that is what most students are expecting when they sign up for an “online” course.

Of course, labeling courses as just synchronous and asynchronous could cause another set of problems when students sign up for a synchronous class and find out that they don’t have the technical equipment to connect to the WebEx session or whatever it may be.

None of this is meant to foo-foo on synchronous meetings in distance learning.  I think there is a need for it.  Someday, I think we are also going to see virtual worlds evolve to the place where you have near photo-realistic avatars that are mapped to your body movements by a web-cam, all displayed on huge, wide screen, multi-touch holographic computer monitors.

I just am beginning to wonder if we need to start actively separating distance learning from online learning, so that students will have a clearer idea of what they are getting in to.  “Distance” learning would come to describe those classes that happen synchronously at a distance, and “online” would come to describe those courses that happen asynchronously over the Internet.  Maybe some are already doing this, but it seems that the terms are used pretty interchangeably now.

Plus, I get tired of going to conferences and having to explain over and over again why I would never use a video vendor’s product in the classes I produce, they need to talk to these people that do that, etc., etc.  I would just like to be able to say “I am more of an ‘online’ person than a ‘distance’ person” and that be the end of that.

Just a random musing for the day.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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