The definition and terminology used to identify distance learning is ever changing, depending on the person or institution making that definition. Some might simply mean learning from an instructor who is not in the same space as the learner. A more contemporary view might define the recent explosion of online schools which provide world-wide access to content, which may or may not be facilitated by an instructor. (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zyacek 2012)
Prior to starting this course for Distance Learning, I had attended an online animation school called Animation Mentor. Based on that experience, where each class met online at a specified time, I would have said this was absolutely necessary for the type of instruction we were receiving. Now that I am midway through my graduate studies, I am discovering this is not always the case. Meeting weekly with an animation industry veteran was certainly helpful, but may not have been absolutely needed. Having our work critiqued by the same person, I would argue, was valuable and was a needed part in that particular learning experience. The one other thing that helped enhance my experience was the learning community of the school. We had an active discussion forum, an “always on” Skype group chat, and other methods for students to interact and learn from each other.
If I were to define distance learning, based on my experience and new knowledge, I would say distance learning is the ability of a learner to gain relevant knowledge using available tools that allow for access to information from remote locations with or without the facilitation of an instructor, aided by the presence of an interactive learning community. The presence of an instructor or learning community does not mean physically present, but the ability to facilitate the learning experience using pre-determined methods and tools.
I am a huge fan of science fiction, in both film and print. Occasionally, the authors will explore a premise revolving around previously unimagined methods of learning. In a previous post, I wrote about learning in “The Matrix”, but I’ll skip that as an all too convenient way to gaining knowledge. The technology explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation offers a more fascinating potential for distance learning with the holo-deck. Is it still distance learning if you cannot perceive that the instructor is a simulation or projection of a real person?
Until we have that type of technology, I imagine the definition of what distance learning is will continue to evolve. As the technology continues to change, it will be my responsibility to keep up and design meaningful learning experiences.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson