While introducing myself to other members of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) who shared my table at a recent dinner meeting, I mentioned that I was pursuing a master’s degree in ID from Walden University. One woman furrowed her brow and asked if I was happy with my experience. She seemed skeptical of my positive review of Walden’s program because she’d had a bad experience taking an online course 20 years ago. Apparently, her class had too many students for the instructor to manage. Unfortunately, many e-learning users who’ve had a bad experience assume that all e-learning “is like their personal experience: weak” (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008a, p. 71). This was certainly true of my dinner companion who had dismissed distance learning as ineffective.
Chiming in to support my viewpoint was a third woman, a consultant to global companies who has taught online courses through the University of Phoenix. She insisted that she hadn’t found many topics—face-to-face sales and negotiation skills, mostly–that she couldn’t teach online. I’m not sure if we convinced our skeptical colleague that today’s distance education has evolved in the past 20 years, but I hope so for her own sake.
Like most of you, my higher education began in a traditional brick-and-mortar university. Detractors of distance education often complain that an online course cannot duplicate the classroom experience. However, this is faulty logic. The two environments require different models for instructional delivery (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b). Some believe that the immediate exchange provided in a classroom discussion is superior to the online course’s asynchronous discussion. The counter argument is that students and instructors in the online course have higher quality discussions because they have time to contemplate and formulate their responses (Moller et al., 2008b). My own experience at Walden supports that viewpoint. How many of you have ever spent an anonymous semester lost among a hundred other students in an auditorium-style class? In such a setting, it’s not possible for everyone to talk, and the instructor will never be able to speak personally with each student. I think the following YouTube video effectively addresses the skeptics.
My first experience with distance education was about 10 years ago. I took an online course from a community college to learn Dreamweaver. To be honest, I just wanted the academic software discount. Although I completed the course with an enhanced knowledge of Dreamweaver, I didn’t feel that I gained anything by having a remote instructor. A book or CBT would have been just as effective. Unfortunately, organizations and IDs are often more focused on delivering training cheaply to the masses and do not evaluate whether distance training will be effective (Moller, 2008a).
At Walden, we use Lynda.com, books, and CBTs for our tool training, and we focus our online coursework on topics where collaboration is beneficial. To me, this is a sensible approach. Nick van Dam, author of Next Learning, Unwrapped, proposes a learning framework that achieves the best results by combining formal learning, which may include distance courses, with informal learning. Rather than forcing the subject matter to fit one model, such as distance education, the “magic is in the blend” (van Dam, 2012, p. 53).
Prior to this week’s class discussion about distance learning, my view has admittedly been self-centered since distance learning has provided a convenient way to advance my career. However, the assigned readings and class discussion this week have forced me to “think outside the box” I live in. I was surprised to learn that distance education is a growing trend for K-12 (Huett, 2008), not just higher education. Furthermore, as I contemplate how I might promote distance education at my company, I learned I should consider the need for program evaluation and recognize organizational demands for a return on investment (Moller, 2008a).
Looking toward the future, in this week’s video, Simonson predicted exponential growth for distance learning from K-12 to higher education to the corporate world. This should offer numerous opportunities for students of ID. If we take an even broader perspective of distance learning’s potential impact, it extends beyond the mechanics of education and offers a potential avenue for the world’s poor and disenfranchised people to improve their situations (Khan & Williams, 2007). Therefore, as students of ID, we can think of ourselves as ambassadors for change in our own lives, schools, the workplace, and the world.
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.
Khan, H. & Williams, J. B. (2007). Poverty alleviation through access to education: Can e-learning deliver? Retrieved from http://www.u21global.edu.sg/PartnerAdmin/ViewContent?module=DOCUMENTLIBRARY&oid=157294
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.
van Dam, N. (2012, April). Designing learning for a 21st century workforce. T+D, 66(4), 49-53.