The Future of Distance Education

Distance education has become a preferred way for many people to further their education while balancing careers and families. The fact remains, however, that there is still much controversy over whether or not distance education can match up to a traditional education in a classroom setting. “In spite of the phenomenal growth of distance education, two conflicting pressures confront distance educators” (Simonson et al, 2014). Students prefer to learn in a face-to-face learning environment with interaction but also want to have the flexibility to learn where and when they choose (Simonson et al, 2012).

I feel the perception of distance education can be extremely different depending on who you ask. A novice distance learner might have concerns as to whether or not the education received will be as reputable as the education received from a traditional learning environment. Another perception might be that distance learning environment is less rigorous than that of a traditional classroom because some may see the increase in flexibility in distance learning as one that results in less accountability since you do not actually have to sit in a traditional classroom. These perceptions, from personal experience, are farthest from the truth but without any background knowledge to base these perceptions on, it would be hard for one without any distance education experience to know. As technology continues to grow and distance education awareness increases, I feel this will change as more people will be presented with opportunities to learn online. “In addition, high-speed delivery technologies will facilitate the distribution of distance education courses, and evolution of tools for learning will continue to enhance the learning experience.

The role of an instructional designer in promoting positive awareness of distance education is extremely important. The job of the ID is to ensure that any courses or online projects that he or she designs should reflect professionalism and knowledge of the expectations needed to ensure a quality program. “Instructional design should consider all aspects of the instructional design environment, following a well-organized procedure that provides guidance for to even the novice distance instructor. The instructional environment should be viewed as a system, a relationship among all of the components of that system-the instructor, the learners, the material and the technology” (Simonson et al, 2012).

In order for me, as an Instructional Designer, to make a positive impact in the future of distance education, I must commit to staying current on best practices involving designing and developing courses for potential clients while presenting a professional work ethic. “One key to effective distance education is correct instructional design, a systematic process that applies research-based principles to educational practice. If the design is effective, instruction will also be effective” (Simonson et al, 2012).























Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). The Future of Distance Education [Video filed]. Retrieved from


Simonson, M. Smaldino, S. Albright, M & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.) Boston, MA:Pearson.



Converting to a Distance Learning Format

Consider the following scenario: A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.


  1. What are some of the pre-planning strategies the trainer needs to consider before converting his program? Converting from teaching in a traditional classroom to facilitating a distance learning class takes a lot of time, research and preparation. One of the most important steps in the process is to know the learners and their learning styles. The trainer must determine who the learners are as well as their background knowledge. It is important for him to understand what they already know and how able they are to learn using technology. The learners’ abilities can be determined through surveys or one-on-one meetings, if time allows. It would be virtually impossible for the trainer to create an online course without having an understanding of the learners beforehand. The trainer must also plan to switch his teaching from a content-centered approach to a student-centered approach. While student-centered instruction is not new to the educational world, it is an extremely important aspect to be considered when creating a distance learning environment. “With the advent of online resources, the student-centered approach to learning fits well into distance education environments. By its very nature, online education demands that students become engaged in the learning process” (Simonson et al, 2012). Getting to know the learners and their way of learning is a key component towards designing a training course that will meet the needs’ of the learners. Another important step of converting a traditional learning environment to a distance learning environment is that the trainer needs to ensure that he is extremely versed on all of the technology that will be used. According to Dr. Piskurich, Principal and Owner of GMP and Associates, the instructor must know the software and technology that will be used so that there won’t be any road blocks during the facilitating” (Piskurich, N.D.). The instructor also needs to know exactly what technology is available for the students and make sure the students are able to use the technology and complete the activities and assignments, while using the technology, in the time specified. Preplanning for any type of technology issues is very beneficial for the instructor and a back-up plan should be available. “It is essential that the instructor be prepared with alternatives for each lesson in case of a system problem” (Simonson et al, 2014).
  2. What aspects of his original training program could be enhanced in the distance learning format? One of the biggest changes the trainer must make in his training program, to make it ready for distance learning, is to include technology resources that engage and stimulate his learners. The trainer will need to make visually learning a priority since some of the hybrid training will take place at a distance. “Because of the nature of the distance learning and the separation of the instructor from the students, it is essential that the instructor begin to think visually. Too often, instructors do not place enough emphasis on designing and using quality visual materials” (Simonson et al, 2014). Because the learners may not always be together or with the trainer, he must also make sure the students have access to the learning materials as well as the technology resources. Given the fact that the training is work related and more than likely mandatory, the employees would need to be provided with everything they need to successfully complete the training.
  3. How will his role, as trainer, change in a distance learning environment? The trainer will need to make a lot of changes in order to prepare himself for facilitating at a distance. He will need to design a training module that is student-centered opposed to that of a teacher-centered model. “By its very nature, online education demands that students become engaged in the learning process. They cannot sit back and be passive learners; rather, they must participate in the learning process” (Simonson et al, 2012). The trainer, in this scenario, would need to encourage and motivate employees to be active participants through the use of learning activities that encourage engagement. The role of the trainer would no longer be that of a lecturer.
  4. What steps should the trainer take to encourage the trainees to communicate online? Communication is an absolute must in a distance learning environment and it will be the responsibility of the trainer to ensure that it takes place. “Sustained, high-quality student participation usually doesn’t happen on its own in the online learning environment. The instructor needs to model participation, create assignments that encourage it, and foster an environment that supports it” (Thormann, 2014). The trainer will need to provide an online learning environment in which communication is the top priority amongst himself and the trainees. This can be accomplished by implementing discussion groups in which participation is mandatory. The trainer should be present and set the tone for what is expected during the discussions. By setting the tone, the trainer should let the trainees know that yes or no answers are not acceptable, as they will never lead to any type of meaningful discussions.

















Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.) Distance Education: Facilitating Online Learning [Video filed]. Retrieved from


Simonson, M. Smaldino, S. Albright, M & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.) Boston, MA:Pearson.


Thormann, J. (2012). Encouraging Online Learner Participation. Retrieved August 10, 2014 from





Evaluation of an Open Course

The Open Courseware I have chosen to review is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Course. Courses are offered in areas of business, energy, engineering, fine arts, health and medicine, humanities, mathematics, social science, science, society and teaching and education. The history of MIT OCW dates back to 1999 at which time, faculty members were looking for ways to integrate student learning through the use of the internet (MIT Open Courseware, 2014). OCW was created in the year 2000 and offered about 50 courses. The growing number of courses offered since 2000 have increased to over 1,800 and more are being added each year

(MIT Open Courseware, 2014).

In my opinion, MIT OCW is very well planned and designed for a distance learning environment. Whether the participant is new to distance learning or more advanced, the information provided on the OCW is easy to locate and well organized. The OCW offers a “Getting Started Tour” containing information about locating courses, questions about technology, how to use provided materials, answers to questions about fair use and information about citing any materials used from their OCW. All of the materials needed to enroll and complete an online course are provided for the facilitator or learner so he or she has all of the resources to be successful in the mentoring or learning environment. “Instructional design should consider all aspects of the instructional environment, following a well-organized procedure that provides guidance to even the novice distance learner” (Simonson et al, 2012).

The recommendations for successful online instruction located in our course textbook are established throughout the MIT OCW. The content, courses, goals and objectives, type of media and provided resources are clear and easy to locate through the modules and links. “In an Internet-based learning environment, the instructor needs to be concerned with the layout of the courseware and the types of resources available to the students at the distant sites” (Simonson et al, 2012).

Student engagement is clearly important to the designers and developers of the MIT OCW as they provide numerous types of multimedia technology. Video, audio, interactive simulations, online textbooks and project based learning assignments are offered to heighten learner engagement. “Because of the nature of distance learning and the separation of the instructor from the students, it is essential that the instructor begin to think visually. Too often, instructors do not place enough emphasis on designing and using quality visual materials. Taking the time to develop good visual media will enhance the quality of the learning experience” (Simonson et al, 2014). I poked around to different courses I had no interest in and found the video and color presentations to be extremely eye-catching and engaging.

The designers and developers of the MIT OCW designed and developed a very effective OCW in which instructors and learners would be engaged and successful. The planning spent in the design is clear through the ease of locating information while staying engaged throughout the discovery of the information.











Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.