The Future of Distance Learning


The U.S. Department of Education recently reported that were 12.2 million students enrolled in online courses in the 2006-2007 academic year, a remarkable increase over the 3,077 million student enrollments in the 2000-2001 school year (Mortagy, & Boghikian-Whitby 2010). The convenience of online learning is becoming more attractive to the busy adult learner. While there are still many skeptics, I believe that distance learning is going to gain worldwide acceptance.  As an instructional designer, it is important to promote our field in a positive and optimistic way. 

I believe the perception of distance learning in the future will be one that the quality is equivalent to that of a traditional classroom. As the number of people who are required to use a computer increases, so will their comfortably on the internet. Futurist William Gibson has been quoted as saying “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.”  George Siemens (n.d.) believes that because there is an increase of online contact, useful experience with new technology, users feeling at ease when online, and the ability to talk to with a diverse audience, it has made online education more acceptable. New communication technologies, contribution by experts from around the world and the increase use of multimedia games in the upcoming years will help change the perception of the purpose of the internet and help make distance education credible and more prestigious (n.d.).

As an instructional designer, I can advocate for improving societal perceptions of distance learning by talking about and designing quality courses.  Courses should have clear goals, focus, appropriate assignments, media and assessments (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).  Instructional Designers should also listen to evaluative feedback from their students (2009).  In addition to quality faculty, distance learners are interested in high level curriculum, supportive classrooms, good reputation and flexibility (Gambescia, & Paolucci, 2009). IDs must keep these factors in mind when building a class.  If designed successfully, students will become the IDs advocate for online learning, telling friends and co-workers about great learning experiences.

I will be a positive force for continuous improvement of the distance education field in many ways.  First, I will continue my education in this field.  Before taking enrolling in Walden, I had not been a student for 15 years. Because of all of the new knowledge I have learned, I realize the importance of returning to school.  Both my students and colleagues have benefited from the knowledge that I have shared.  Second, I am going to be proposing our first distance learning courses at our high school. I want to have alternatives for students who may fail the traditional course.  Finally, I am currently and in the future, going to talk about the integration of technology and education.  By positively promoting distance learning, it will help not only introduce skeptics to online learning, but it will indirectly improve the quality of distance learning because the student will be able to choose from a variety of credible institutions.  I look forward to the future and my up-in-coming design experiences. 


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

Malamad, C. (2009). The future of learning design. Retreived October 28, 2011 from

Mortagy, Y. & Boghikian-Whitby, S. (2010). A Longitudinal comparative study of student perceptions in online education. Retrieved October 26, 2011 from

Siemens, G. (n.d.). The Future of Distance Education. Retrieved October 26, 2011 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.


Best Practice Guide: Converting to a Hybrid Course



Transferring face to face courses to a hybrid course has the potential to increase student learning outcomes compared to that of the traditional classroom (Dziuban, Hartman, Moskal, 2004).  Although many definitions of hybrid and blended learning exist, there are three key points “(1) web-based learning activities are introduced to complement face-to-face work; (2) “seat time” is reduced, though not eliminated altogether; (3) the Web-based and face-to-face components of the course are designed to interact pedagogically to take advantage of the best features of each (University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 2011).” This best practices guide will include ideas and tips that could assist you in facilitating communication and learning among your students.  The guide should be useful to anyone who is converting a program from entirely face-to-face to a blended learning format.

Pre-Planning Strategies

The following is a list of questions that trainers need to ponder when transferring a face-to-face course to hybrid course.

  1.  “What are the course objectives (Delaney, n.d.) ?” Posing the question will ensure the new blended course will be based on the actual learning goals, not technology.
  2. “What are you doing in the classroom to meet each of your objectives (n.d.) ?”  List all of the activities that you currently use in the classroom setting. Be specific about the objectives that are being met with these activities.  This list will help with the redesign of your course.
  3. “Which of those activities can best take place online (n.d.)?” Think about what is working well in the classroom and what can be done differently or even better online (n.d.). There are several activities that can be enhanced using an online format.
  4. “How will the online activities integrate with the face-to-face activities (n.d.)?” A hybrid course is the integration between two courses.  If not converted well, students will find the online course will to be busy work unless it compliments what is being taught in the classroom. 

Objectives That May Be Enhanced with Distance Learning

After reflecting on objectives and activities that are currently in your face-to-face classroom, it is time to examine what can be enhanced online. The challenge is to have the content of the course adjust to the needs of the learners (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).  Discussion boards are one of the most important aspects of online learning.  Threaded, relevant conversations need to be had to inspire students to retain their new knowledge. Below is a picture illustrating the importance of the discussion board (Buis, 2011).


Facilitating Communication and Learning Among Students

“The syllabus can become an important communication vehicle for the instructor in clarifying expectations related to appropriate use of language in all communications”(Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 166). The syllabus provides the frame work for contacting the instructor, technological difficulties, and most importantly, having the students understanding their role in the hybrid course. Some of aspects of online learning that may enhance communication are email, wikis, blogging, social networking and virtual worlds (2009).   The following chart is a list of tools that shows the current and emerging tools currently being used by higher education institutions (Gregory 2008).


Role of Distance Learning Instructor
The role of face-to-face teacher to hybrid teacher will go from teacher-centered to student-centered.  Student-centered learning will engage students in the learning process (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009).They will need to interact with both the teacher and other students in order to be successful in the course.  The chart below outlines some of the traditional roles of the teachers with that of a hybrid teacher (Rivas, 2010).



For a hybrid course to be successful, pre-planning, objective building, communication and understanding of instructor roles are all a vital part of the transformation from face-to-face to blended course.  Trainers need to imagine, create and support this type of course to invoke higher level thinking and retention rates.


Buis, K. (2011).Transmission of knowledge learning framework. Retrieved October 20, 2011 from

Delaney, S. (n.d.). Converting a face to face course to hybrid a course. Retrieved October 20, 2011 from

Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Moskal, P., (2004). Blended learning. Retrieved October 20, 2011  from

Gregory, S. 2008, Virtual Classrooms. Retrieved August 13, 2011 from

Rivas, N. (2010). Towards an e-pedology: changing roles. Retrieved October 20, 2011 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. (2011). About hybrid classes. Retrieved October 20,2011 from

The Impact of Open Source

An Open Source is when an educational course is “open and freely available worldwide for non-commercial purposes such as research and education, providing an extraordinary resource, free of charge (TechTarget, 2011).”  In the relatively short time it has been available, it has revolutionized our society. For example, Wikipedia is one of the largest and most available sources of information on the internet (Opensource, 2011).  Contributors can post and comment on other’s postings.  Employers like Whole Foods have begun to use open source applications to show transparency in their wages, items to stock and staffing decisions (2011).  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) decided they were going to lead all educational institutions and make their courses and materials available to the public, free of charge. This year MIT OpenCourseWare, considered the pioneer of open source, celebrated its 10th anniversary of open sharing and educating nearly 100 million people worldwide (MIT, 2011).  I have decided to analyze the  MIT course, Ecology I:  The Earth System.   The url is:


When reviewing this science course,  I wanted to analyze it through the eyes of an Instructional Designer/Instructor.  I first looked at signs of pre-planning and design. The course provides a class syllabus, lecture notes, additional reading lists and exams. The site seems to be aesthetically pleasing and structured in a very organized way. I found it easy to navigate through the site.  However, when I took a deeper look at the class, I felt that this class is indeed an online version of what happens in the traditional classroom. When reading over the course notes, it reads like it was written down from a classroom presentation.  In my research, I found little to no images or animations, mainly text. In our text, it states that “courses previously taught in traditional classrooms may need to be retooled.  The focus of the instruction shifts to visual presentations, engaged learners, and careful timing of presentations of information (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright &Zvacke, 2009, p. 127).” In my opinion, while there was a wealth of information available, there was nothing that tried to grab and retained learner’s attention.  The course website seemed to be a site where all course information is parked. 

When analyzing the site from an online instruction point-of-view, I find that it does meet some of the recommendations that are listed in our course text book.  The following is a list of Online Teaching Fundamentals that this site does follow:

1.  “Organize the Course and Make the Organization and Requirements Clear to Students (2009, p.248).”  The course is neatly and efficiently organized by class topics.  The requirements as well as the assignments are easily found on the left side of the page.  The purpose of the assignments and the intended audience of the assignments are just two of the ways that the requirements are made clear to the students.

2.  “Test Applications, Not Rote Memory (2009, p.250).”  The course outcomes are stated on the course syllabus.  I found that the applications are real-world situations that can assess the students overall understanding of the subject matter.

3.  “Integrate the Power of the Web into the Course (2009, p.250).” There are additional resources and readings that are suggested that can be found on the web.

4.  “Apply Adult Learning Principles with Nontraditional Students (2009, p.251).”  Because this is a non-credit course, the majorities of students taking the course are self-directed and most likely have specific reasons for taking the course.  Students can achieve their own learning goals and learn as much or as little as they need.

The following is a list of Online Teaching Fundamentals that this site did not follow. 
1.  “Avoid ‘Dumping’ a Face-to-Face course onto the Web (2009, p.248).  As discussed before, it seems that this is a shovelware site.

2.  “Keep Students Informed Constantly (2009, pg. 249).”  Because this is a non-credit and non-interactive course, there are no announcements, emails, or any other contact between the student and the institution. There is however, a student study group where students can voluntarily post questions and comments to others also taking the course.

Finally, I believe that the course designer did not implement course activities that maximize active student learning.  The group projects that I saw were intended for the traditional face-to-face student working with other classmates.  The projects looked interesting and fun. However, they could have been easily modified for the online OpenCourseWare student.   Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, (2009) state that group work “helps construct a supportive social environment.”  This aspect of distance education needs to be improved in order to maximize learning.

Overall, I believe the MIT Ecology I:  The Earth System course is  a valuable tool that can introduce students of all ages to the online environment.  I believe all students should be aware of open course websites that offer free courses.  It is a great way to continue one’s life-long learning.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2011). MIT OpenCourseWare’s first 10 years: 100 million served. Retrieved October 8th, 2011 from (2011). About Retrieved October 8, 2011 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

TechTarget (2011). MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW). Retrieved October 8, 2011 from,,sid9_gci540010,00.html