Defining Distance Learning. . . .

A big surprise to me in this week’s learning resources in the evolution of distance education has been the “century old” age of distance education.  (Post University, n.d.).  My furthest recollection of the concept only dates back to the 70’s.  I didn’t even know the term “distance education” but vaguely remember the term “correspondence study”.  It was in the late 80’s, after immigrating to the United States that I became familiar with the concept and term of “distance education.”

Personal experience. . . .

My own experience in distance education (as a student), which I have also been referring to as online learning, began not too long ago, in 2008, when I enrolled in a Project Management Certification program.  Since then, I have enrolled here at Walden’s Instructional Design program, and in a self-study Arabic language learning program.  While the first two qualify as “distance education”, I learned this week that the latter, self-study program, even though it has the four components of distance education discussed in Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek (2012) “institutionally based, separation of teacher and student, interactive telecommunications, sharing of data, voice, and video” (p. 33), it is considered “self-study at a distance” not “distance education”.  (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).  It seems the distinguishing factor may be the credibility represented by a diploma or a degree in “distance education.”

Just before this course. . . . .

My definition of distance education, prior to this course had similar elements as those described in Simonson et al (2012) noted above, except that my definition of “institution” included, and still does, individuals (teachers, tutors, or other professionals who may not necessarily be associated with formal institutions).  In addition, I considered, and still do, “self-study” online/virtual programs as distance education. For example, my Arabic language program, which I have been taking for almost two years now is institution based, my teachers and I (other students as well) live in different locations and different time zones, I can interact with my teachers/tutors and other students through the students’ forum.  Interactivity within the instruction is also built into each lesson and exercises.  Data, voice and video are shared.  So to me, it is distance education.

Revised thinking. . . . .

My revised definition now includes Massive Open Online courses (MOOC), such as those offered through Coursera and Khan Academyas distance education.  Although currently only 2.6% of institutions of higher education offer open online courses, 9.4% are in the planning stage.  (Sloan Consortium, 2012).  It seems a small number but it also shows the program is gaining popularity.  My prediction is that open online courses will continue to grow and become accessible to a wide range of learners and that students in the program will gain wider acceptance and recognition of their skills/education. Dr. Daphne Koller, professor at Stanford University and the co-founder of Coursera presents a compelling argument on the need for open course learning, not just as a service to students but also as a way of understanding how people learn. (TED, 2012).  Check out her presentation, “What We Are Learning From Online Education”  

Distance learning therefore, in the context of my definition of distance education then means adaptability to learning technologies, developing organizational and time management skills, participation in the learning community (sharing and contributing ideas/opinions), embracing individuality and yet acknowledging diverse opinions and learning from those opinions, and recognizing and accepting the open-ended nature of learning – continuous/dynamic not static.

Future vision. . . . .

Conceptually, the world is getting smaller; connections are made instantaneously thousands of miles across the globe with millions of people.  And because of this ability to form instantaneous connections, socially, academically, and/or professionally, distance and time are becoming less relevant, and will, even more so, in the future as our reliance on communications technology deepens. Whether in the classroom or outside, learning and teaching online/virtually/on the web (learning and teaching communications technology) will be fully integrated in all levels of education, and will be widely accessible. And so I envision that the word “distance” in “distance education” will become obsolete.  Our definition of “education” in general will not be limited to skills and knowledge gained from the confinement of classrooms (online, distance, traditional) but will expand to embrace John Dewey’s philosophy of education – “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”  (goodreads, n.d.).  The focus will not be in obtaining credentials but in nurturing our individual abilities and integrating what we learn in the process of our daily lives.  Technology will continue to play a critical role; not just in the physical (hardware/software) sense but in its purpose to connect people and enable the presentation and sharing of diverse thoughts, opinions, and expertise, where “the learner is the teacher is the earner.” Siemens (2006, p.54). Knowing Knowledge.

MindMap vision of future distance learning. . . . .

Future Vision

I look forward to your comments.
Thank you,



goodreads (n.d.).  John Dewey quotes. Retrieved on January 11, 2013, from

Laureate Education Inc., (n.d.) – Video presentation. Distance Education: The Next Generation.

Post Univeristy (n.d.). The Evolution of Distance Learning in Higher Education. Retrieved on January 15, 2013, from

Siemens, G. (2006). (p. 54). Knowing Knowledge.  Retrieved on January 12, 2013, from

Sloan Consortium (2012) – Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education  in the United States.  Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved on January 10, 2013, from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012).  (p. 33). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. (5th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

TED (2012). Daphne Koller. What we’re learning from online education. Retrieved on January 12, 2013, from


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