Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Evolving Opinion of Distance Learning

After an extended hiatus, I have returned to blogging pursuant to Distance Learning course requirements at Walden University. As we shall see, old dogs really can learn new tricks and this week I will describe my evolving opinion on the nature of distance learning.
My first exposure to computer-based training (CBT) occurred in the 1980’s while enrolled in Programed Instruction technical training with the U.S. Navy. These early efforts were crude by today’s standards; owing to the limitations of computers systems. While Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) existed at the time, courses were conducted in closed loop classrooms with a mainframe feed to each monitor. As a measure of the lack of interactivity with this system; assessment was performed by reading a monitor and manually marking scantron sheets fed into an optical scanner. While my current Philosophy of Education and Training and Development is rooted in Behaviorism, my opinion of programed instruction in the 1980’s was less than favorable.
An examination of the literature of these early efforts yielded interesting results. Foremost of these is (Van Matre, Ellis, Monague & Wolfeck 1993). Unfortunately, the entire document could not be retrieved. The abstract notes the following important features of computed-based training: “individualized instruction can involve the individualization of content, sequence, style and difficulty”. According to (Van Matre et al. 1993) the Navy chose to focus strictly on individualized pacing as a cost-saving measure. Here, it was reasoned that slower learning students were holding back swifter learners. Individualized pacing (as envisioned) was implemented to reduce the time required for Sailor’s to obtain the baseline knowledge required for entry into chosen technical fields. In summation, my early experiences with distance learning, left me wanting for enhanced content, interactivity and interaction with classmates and instructional staff.
In 2003-2005 I worked as a subject-matter expert and contractor with San Diego City College developing computer-based training courses for the U.S. Navy using Authorware. Additional duties included; managing a CBT classroom and tutoring at risk students. According to (Simonson, Smaldino and Zvacek 2015) true distance learning encompasses the following elements: separation amongst learners and interactive telecommunication systems creating a linkage amongst learners, resources and staff. When strictly adhering to this definition, it is apparent that the environment described above falls short of being distance learning. Nonetheless, the symmetrical advantage of having a qualified instructor on hand ensured that all students questions were immediately answered.
Subsequently, distance learning course work at several universities (using BlackBoard) and close involvement in the launch of a corporate LMS has fomented my current opinion of distance learning. Presently, there is a rich variety of development tools capable of rendering a highly-interactive interface with high fidelity graphics. Yet, all of this technology is meaningless without grounding in systematic instructional design. While distance learning will never fully displace the traditional classroom, the future appears to be bright for fledgling instructional designers. A word of caution moving forward: We have witnessed the evolving simplification of design tools over the past ten years…it is not unreasonable to expect the same tools to further evolve to the point where templates prompt users to use sound design methodologies.          
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvack, S. (2015). Teaching and Learning at a Distance (6th ed., p. 31). Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.
Van Matre, N., Ellis, J., & Wulfeck, W. (1993). Computer-managed instruction in Naval technical training. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from

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