Distance Learning

Distance Learning has certainly changed significantly over the years.  While it originated over 150 years ago (Laureate Education), it once meant simply subscribing to mail order content to consume information.  Distance Learning has obviously progressed far beyond that point, and continues to change as new technologies and innovations are made available.  My concept for Distance Learning has certainly been impacted upon review of the weekly resources available in EDUC 6135 from Walden University.  It was most interesting to note that Distance Education requires (Simonsson, Smaldino, & Zvacek 2015)  learning in an institutionally-based relationship.  Therefore, informal learning is not included in the formal, accepted definition of Distance Education.

As numerous change factors exist that influence the changes to not only accepted definitions of Distance Learning but perhaps more importantly, to the mechanisms that make Distance Learning possible, the methods and experiences that constitute how Distance Learning is consumed and interacted with are greatly changing.  From large, bulky LMS’s (such as Blackboard) to the more modern, stripped-down LMS’s (Such as Showbie), there is certainly great opportunity for improvement in the way students and teachers experience Distance Learning.  There is a battle brewing, to say the least, and digital pedagogy is at the center of it all!

On one side of the spectrum, many approach Distance Learning platforms as a one stop shop (the more traditional method), whereby an LMS will build ALL the tools they believe are necessary for an effective LMS to function.  To give a few specific examples, an LMS may build a full text editor for document creation (while exceptional tools such as Google Docs exist for free within GAFE), it may build it’s own auto-grading software (while many institutions utilize separate digital grade books), or it may create it’s own calendaring system (while again, GAFE is freely available and is an exceptional tool).  This has been the early trend in digitally-based LMS’s.

The newer trend is tending towards simplicity in a streamlined fashion, where LMS’s aren’t trying to build every possible component, but rather allowing for integration with existing, well-built tools.  As an example of this, Showbie (one of the very best modern LMS’s in my opinion) keeps it simple by not trying to create a full grade book, calendar or content editor, realizing that other platforms already offer superior options.  Instead, it focuses on excellent, streamlined interactions between students and teachers, including very simplified assignment creation, turn-in processes, annotation options, grading options, communications, and group collaboration processes.

However, while Showbie does a tremendous amount right, there are still areas of improvement that the LMS’s of tomorrow will need to figure out.  Central points include better calendaring integration with services such as GAFE, better course creation options that can be “cloned” from year to year, better automated grade book integration with existing digital grade book systems, integration with existing “badging” platforms, and better student portfolio solutions to name a few.  I do believe strongly that the best LMS’s of tomorrow, and therefore the best Distance Learning experiences, will address these key components while keeping the UI very streamlined and simplified.

New Mind Map-2

Graphic illustrating the elements involved in Distance Learning and those central to the future of DL (in red).

References:

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education

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