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Monday, 16 July 2012

Review of Tech Tools for Distance Learning


Asynchronous Training

In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.

In this scenario, the organization can certainly employ several distance learning technologies to achieve their goals which include illustrating best practice operational procedures, and ensuring learner engagement. Two useful technologies that can be applied to this context are podcasts and wikis.
A podcast is a collection of digital files – video and/or audio – that can be automatically downloaded from the internet with each update (Laureate, n.d.).  Podcasts, which are being used more and more by educators to “provide lectures and other course-content-related recordings to students” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, 2012, p.130) are perfect for asynchronous learning as students can access content in their own time. They are also quite suitable for this scenario as audio instructions as well as video demonstrations on safety management can be created.  On the other hand, a wiki is “a space created and edited by groups of persons” which makes an excellent tool for “compiling information in a single online resource” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 130). Wikis would be a perfect means of providing safety instruction but they would also offer the opportunity for learner engagement.
The following sites provide feedback on the impact of these tools on distance learning. The ‘Everything Wiki’ Wiki ( gives some testimonies of both learners and instructors of their experience with wikis.  The site hosts a study that was done by a student of the University of Adelaide, providing evidence of increased attention to podcasts by distance learning over on-campus students.

Everything Wiki (2012). Wikis in Education. Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (n.d). The technology of distance education [DVD]. In EDUC 6135
Distance Learning. Baltimore, MD.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a
distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
van Zanten, R. (2008). The value of lecture podcasting for distance and on-campus
students. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. Retrieved from

Sunday, 1 July 2012

My earliest memory of any form of Distance Learning was the written correspondence courses pursued by my adult family members while I was in High School.  They would receive packages in the mail, complete them and mail them back to the sending school.  Now that I reflect, I am clueless as to how they would have learned about these learning opportunities in the first place, as the web was not as “world-wide” at that time (early 1990’s).  

Later on in life, my purview was extended to synchronous learning experiences where part-time students were taught by audio or video conferencing by someone in another location, then finally to asynchronous practices where students in various locations could access learning materials at different times.  I clearly recall though, not being able to clearly differentiate between distance, online and part-time learning.  At home here, we have an Open Campus facility that was recently converted from a Distance Learning facility.  I struggled for some time to understand the difference between the two types of facilities.

My first week of studies in my current course in Distance Learning (DL) has already helped to shape my understanding of the field.  And it is here that I have learned that DL is actually considered by many as a separate professional field and not just a mode of instruction.  Another rude awakening for me was that DL had a theoretical base.  Our reading resources have been clear that the phenomenon of distance education continues to “change, even restructure” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012, p. 28) however, based on my reading and my current understanding, the following reside as ‘must-haves’ in a definition of distance learning:

  • ·         Distance between members of the learning group – According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek (2012), this distance can be geographic, intellectual and by time to access learning;
  • ·         Corresponding media – Some mode of communication and access of and to learning material and communication;
  • ·         Repetition and Universality – Moller, Foshay and Huett (2008) talk about the scalability of e-learning, where instruction, once developed, is available to thousands immediately and over and over;
  • ·         Active participation – This will be facilitated by subject matter that is easily accessible which, according to Holmberg’s theory of Interaction and Communication is important for “learning pleasure” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012, p. 48).  Knowles’ theory of Andragogy adds that active participation can be aided by “the use of work groups or study teams” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012, p. 51).
With my updated definition in mind, my vision for the future of distance learning encompasses its impact on the classroom and on the business world.  Distance learning has already significantly broadened the educational sector and perhaps, most significantly, has made learning available to many more individuals than any another milestone accomplished in the education sector.  I envision that this impact would increase exponentially.  I also envision that the traditional classroom would be transformed into learning centers that utilize distance learning principles, where subject content will be available through a universally accessible medium to be accessed by students on their own time. ‘Class time’ would then be utilized for discussion, application and exploration.

On the corporate end, distance learning would be pivotal to training and development programs.  Organizations would form collaborations with educational institutions that would provide educational programs that would cater for their employees’ needs.  Large multinational companies, for example, can collaborate with educational institutions to produce or offer courses that would be accessed by their staff at any location.  Training Coordinators will be transformed into program handlers or registrars. 

Though distance education has its downsides and has received its share fair of criticisms, it has proven its resilience and shown that it is here to stay.  With the progress made in the field thus far, my vision for the future is certainly attainable, and very soon so.