This post attempts to forecast the future of distance learning as related to the following questions:
1. What do you think the perceptions of distance learning will be in the future (in 5–10 years; 10–20 years)?
2. How can you as an instructional designer be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning?
3. How will you be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education?
With regards to question one, distance learning in industry, education and government institutions will continue to grow and gain popularity due to an ever-increasing acceptance of the technology used in distance learning. The use of Skype for communication with family and friends is a prime example of parallel use of an application for both personal and educational purposed according to (Laureate n.d.) the evolving acceptance of the validity of distance learning is rooted in the following conditions:
1. Expansion of online communication
2. Practical experience with new communications tools
3. Increased comfort level w/ technology
4. Recognition of the value of global diversity in the online environment
Ostensibly, the first three, (and perhaps the fourth) items are closely related and are congruent with accepted norms on how technology is dispersed amongst the masses. Interestingly, I have observed older generations eagerly adopting online communication as a means of maintaining contact with their children and grandchildren. There is also a great deal of empirical evidence to suggest that older working adults are increasingly willing to participate in distance learning courses as a means of managing hectic personal, work and education-related schedules.
Regarding the second question; I believe it is incumbent upon Instructional Designers to fully deploy all available resources in creating course materials that conform to adult learning principles while balancing Behaviorist, Cognitive and Constructivist learning theory to enhance the learning experience. To be sure, I am not advocating for the wholesale deployment of the latest “gizmos”. However, carefully selected technology such as gamming and simulations will doubtlessly serve to reduce cognitive loading and make for a more enjoyable learning experience.
Concurrent with the aforementioned items, Instructional Designers should strive to ensure that course material (however different structurally) produces learning outcomes equivalent to the same courses offered at brick and mortar institutions. Essentially, a properly designed distance learning course will diverge from its brick and mortar counterpart in deployment methodology, but ultimately, re-converge with congruent learning outcomes. If a course fails to meet this standard, the Instructional Designer has failed in his task, as the reputation and veracity of the distance learning will necessarily suffer.
Regarding the final question; adherence to the abovementioned principles will go a long way towards promoting continuous improvement in the distance learning arena. In addition to championing these standards is the need to remain abreast of the latest research and advancements in distance learning. Obviously, technology is only part of the puzzle, but I foresee the day where instructional design software suites will seamlessly integrate with display and deployment technologies so as to render Instructional Designers obsolete.
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). The future of distance education [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu