As I look back over the last eight weeks, and what I have learned about distance education, I am nothing but encouraged about the future of learning online. I look at the perceptions now, where they were, and where they are going and see increased acceptance. As a beginning instructional designer, I must also consider what I can do myself to help improve those perceptions and how to be a positive force for improvement in the field.
Divining the Future
While it is nearly impossible to truly know what the future will bring, I see evidence in the public perception of distance learning that it will continue to be accepted. As more and more people have access to high-speed broadband, the technologies available to create and transmit the information will be more pervasive. Our text (Simonson et al, 2012) brought up the field of telemedicine. Recently, the technology of virtual reality (VR) has been making a more public comeback. In an article about Oculus Rift (Newman, 2014), the technology is being used to train new surgeons remotely. I see this as a positive step towards accepting distance learning, at least in the medical field. In 5 years, this technology could be used in an increasing number of schools. In 10 years, I could see the VR technology being used as a complete virtual classroom, combining ideas of discussion forum, blogs, and live chat in yet unforeseen ways.
What can I do?
One thing I think I must do to help improve societal perceptions of distance learning is to become an expert in the technology. This not only means becoming proficient in using the tools, but understanding why I would use one tool over another and knowing which context is a best fit for a particular tool. Simonson et al (2012) expand on this when they explain it is not only which technologies are used, but how and what information is communicated using the tools.
Accentuate the Positive
The popular 1940’s song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Mercer, 1944) encourages the listener to be positive to increase their happiness. While I don’t think it is responsible to completely ignore the negative aspects of everything, the notion of the song is something to think about. I feel, as an instructional designer, it is important to communicate positive thoughts about distance learning. The more that can be done to help the learner. This means providing useful tools to communicate with the instructor and fellow students, providing understandable boundaries and goals for the students, and allowing the student to feel like they have a responsibility in their own learning (Simonson et al, 2012).
With all this in mind, I am becoming more aware of the role of the instructional designer. Not only must I learn the tools, but I need to know why I am using them. I also need to help grow the field of disntance learning by increasing awareness of the positive aspects of it.
Mercer, J. (1944) Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive. [Recorded by The Pied Pipers] Capitol Records.
Newman, J. (2014) How the Oculus Rift VR headset is helping train the surgeons of tomorrow. Retrieved from http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/news/hacking-maker/oculus-rift-vr-headset-becomes-tool-for-real-life-surgery-demos/
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2011) Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.). Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.