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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Reflection: Future of Distance Learning

What do you think the perceptions of distance learning will be in the future (in 5–10 years; 10–20 years)?
Dr. George Siemens, in the video presentation titled ‘The Future of Distance Education’, spoke to the growing acceptance of distance learning (DL), which he attributes to factors such as increased online communication and persons’ experiences with new tools (Laureate Inc., n.d.).  When considering that DL is also scalable and learning is accessible (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012), the future looks bright.  Bearing these points in mind, I envision that in the next 5 to 10 years, most, if not all, institutions of higher learning will offer DL programs. Many more primary and secondary learning institutions will begin to explore distance learning options and experiment with blended learning. In the corporate world, organisations would begin to turn to DL for personalised, ‘just-in-time’ training options for their staff.  To take the vision further, in the next 10 – 20 years, distance learning can very well replace brick-and-mortar institutions and classroom-type training with virtual realities, gaming and simulations becoming an embedded part of the learning process.
Getting to this point though, would take a significant amount of resources as approaches and processes would have to change at many levels. The impact that is possible through Distance Learning is significant.  I share Siemens’ view that such changes would require inputs from governments, contribution from subject matter experts (Laureate Inc., n.d.).  I also think that DL will, or for that matter, will continue to ‘truffle feathers’ as it will be a great change factor for current learning methods.

How can you as an instructional designer be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning?
            As a result of my pursuit of this degree with Walden University, I have changed from being a sceptic of DL to a believer that DL is here to stay.  In my current employment, I have responsibilities for training.  I have already been proposing that our department considers DL learning training options in the place of classroom-style training, where we bring in an SME to deliver instruction.  My managers themselves are still sceptical and have not fully embraced the option, for reasons including fear of poor training quality resulting from technology failure and uncertainty as to the validity of DL programs.  I plan to pursue this using knowledge gained for this course, to present a thorough proposal as to how we can maximise DL opportunities for the company’s benefit.  I have already been talking to many of my co-workers about the benefits and value of DL; this I will continue to do.  I will also consider stirring up media dialogue in my country on the value of DL.

How will you be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education?
            According to Gambescia & Paolucci (2009), with the proliferation of DL, particularly at the college level, “major stakeholders were...quick to assess distance learning...for its quality” (p. 1).  In my country, we currently have a few institutions that offer DL options, and some of our schools are experimenting with blended learning.  I would seek dialogue with these institutions, particularly the private ones, on their methods for ensuring academic quality or fidelity of their programs and offer information to assist them if necessary.  Also, I happen to have open access to a column in one of our weekly newspapers.  As part of the media dialogue I mentioned above, I would pursue a series on Distance Learning, seeking to promote and highlight best practices in DL and how they can be applied to our local setting.

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university
online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (n.d). The future 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.

Taking Training Viral

In response to a training Facilitator's desire to convert a traditional training course into an online-based hybrid or blended course, this entry focuses on tips for effective conversion. Here, I seek to address key areas such as pre-planning considerations, possible enhancements in original course structure, differences in roles in the Face-to-face and online environments, as well as steps to effective communication. It is hoped that this guide will  be effective in preventing common errors that are made in such conversion attempts.  

The tips are presented in a print-and-go brochure format, here attached. Please feel free to leave your comments or observations.

Divia Lewis 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Impact of Open Source

The Impact of Open Source                                                                                                               
          In many circles, distance learning is being popularized by the proliferation of Open Courseware (OCW) that is being made readily available online by an increasing number of universities.  In many cases, courses available via this medium do not necessarily lead to university credits, but are available for personal knowledge or training purposes.  But just exactly how are such courses designed?  Do they adhere to the standards for designing online instruction? This entry reviews a free Open Course and evaluates it against standards for designing and building distance learning programs.
Source: Open Yale Courses
Overview of course format
This course was originally taught in a face-to-face setting in two seventy-five minute slots per week.  In that setting, it covered a total of twenty-two lectures and was assessed through two examinations, along with reading and book review assignments.  It is presented on an interface with four sections; two pertaining to course content (Syllabus and Sessions) and the remaining two as accessory sites (Course Survey and book purchasing).
Is the Course Designed and Prepared for a Distance Learning Environment?
As previously mentioned, the original ‘Introduction to Psychology’ course was delivered in a face-to-face classroom.  The online version is simply a collection of multimedia pieces of content and lecture notes that were delivered in class.  Many of the videos are clippings of actual class lectures.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek (2012) caution against “dumping a face-to-face course onto the web” when creating an online course (p.134). They advocate rather, that the online course should have activities that are geared specifically for the online environment. This is not the case with our Psyc 110 course; it rather seems initially to be a good example of ‘shovelware’ (Simonson et al.). Further, if we assess the course based on the Masie Center’s five abilities that should be present if instruction meets online standards (Simonson et al., 2012), this course would score low on its ability to run with other systems, high on its reusability, low on the capability of the courseware to be able to track user information, high on accessibility and moderately on durability. Reusability and accessibility get high scores simply because of its viral hosting.  Our video resource on ‘Developing an Online Course’ outlines a process that includes moving from Storyboarding to Site Mapping to selecting course assets to the presentation shell to course testing.  This course does not seem to have been subjected to any aspect of this process.  These factors seem to indicate that the course was not prepared for the distance learning environment.
Does the course follow recommendations for online instruction?
Simonson et al. (2012) offer several recommendations for online instruction.  These include the following considerations.
·         Knowing your learners – Because an online course will more than likely attract a wider cross section of learners, it is critical that the online course caters for learners from various backgrounds and with varying learning styles and experiences.  Course content should reflect this consideration;
·         Maximize Communication – Learner interaction (learner with learner and learner with instructor) is critical to success in the online environment.  Due to the absence of face-to-face contact, more care must be taken to ensure that provision for this is made in the online environment.  Also essential is the provision of an avenue for communicating personal concerns and getting feedback from instructors;
·         Relevant content – The average online learner is an adult with work and family commitments.  Such a learner has little tolerance for irrelevant content.  Further, content for these learners is deemed useful when it meets their needs.
·         Appropriate format – Online courses should be organized in units, broken down into modules and then topics, each topic representing a particular learning outcome.
Regarding the first three points, this course does not seem to make particular provision to ensure that these ‘standards’ are attained.  There is no evidence that effort was put into knowing learners’ backgrounds or ensuring that irrelevant content is omitted.  There is no clear avenue for communicating with the instructor or fellow students and the course format is a simple arrangement of lectures, intermixed with guest lectures and two examinations.  If judging against the above list, then this Open Course does not follow the mentioned guidelines for an online course.
Did the course designer implement course activities that maximize active learning for the students?
High usage of visual content and a variety of media is critical to distance learning (Simonson et al., 2012).  The organizers of this course have made content available via video, slideshows, readings and audio clips.  However these media do not enhance delivery but are merely the means of viewing what took place in the face-to-face sessions.  The main course activities in the original setting were textbook readings, class tests, a book review and take-home assignments.  No class activities seem to have been added in the online OCW version.  Little or no emphasis therefore was placed on maximize active learning for students in the online environment.
This particular Open Course did not meet general standards of an online program, nor did it follow the principles for developing such. However, before writing this course off as ill-structured or inappropriate for online learning, it may be useful to investigate the institution’s objectives for moving this face-to-face course online.  My guess is that the aim was not to create an effective online course, but rather to make this course available to persons outside of the traditional classroom.  This is often the case with OCWs.  Rather than viewing this OCW as ‘shovelware’, the nobility of the objective and not the effectiveness of the course’s online status is what are to be appreciated.

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.