I started my journey as an Instructional Designer when I was employed as a new hire sales trainer in a call center environment. My knowledge of design and development was based solely on my experience as a salesperson combined with the software programs I taught myself to use including Microsoft Office. I remained in the position for ten years and learned very little about the ID principles that should be incorporated into a training program. I then had the opportunity to work as an admissions advisor for a university that offered online degree programs. It was my responsibility to interview potential students and present the benefits of earning a degree through distance learning. The convenience, flexibility, and ease of studying at one’s own pace while still obtaining a quality education were given as benefits and over time I realized this was the only way I would ever complete a higher education degree program. I moved out of state shortly after beginning my degree program and still continued to pursue my education while being a stay-at-home mom. I had the time to be supportive of my children while being able to complete my required studies and interact with other students who had the same goals. My definition of distance learning includes being able to use various modes of media for sources of knowledge, the ability to interact through discussions of the material with students and professors, submit tests, applications, and projects through online communication, and the ability to do all of these things at my own pace within set deadlines.
During the pursuit of my Bachelor’s in Business Administration, I realized that my goal was to incorporate my business knowledge into training and development. That is when I decided to continue my journey by pursuing my Master’s degree in Instructional Design. While working in the corporate environment, I noticed many ways that training could improve so that new hire employees were more knowledgeable of the company and their position but also that they were more motivated and determined to meet their goals. I have often thought of how distance learning could be designed so that employees could learn at his/her own pace. If an employee had access to training programs at home or in a designated area of the workplace, they would be able to review and test their knowledge and skills to make them further prepared for their work responsibilities. Simonson (2003) stated that “the purest form of distance education occurs at different times and in different places. In other words, learners choose when and where to learn and when and where to access instructional materials.” This concept of asynchronous distance learning allows learners to access web-based instruction at their flexibility and convenience.
“Distance education is defined as institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructions” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 10). Through my educational and professional experience, I have learned much about the concept of distance learning so this definition is not entirely new to me. There are four characteristics that distinguish distance education including: involving institutions, geographic separation, interactive telecommunications, and established learning community (Simonson et al., 2012). While there are many definitions and perspectives of what constitutes distance learning, if any of the mentioned characteristics are not involved, then the program cannot be considered distance learning.
In the corporate environment, I would like to see a program developed to engage learners in their home or work location of their choice. However, I am uncertain of how this would fit into the definition of distance learning. Geographic separation would allow learners to access the program anywhere and at any time, at some point it would be amazing to see employees engaging with employees at other locations around the country or potentially around the world. Interactive telecommunications would allow for use of email, discussion groups, and media as communication and sources of learning. A learning community could be composed of employees from a new hire training group or a particular department within the company, an instructor, and a training manual could be provided to act similar to a textbook. The question would be how to provide this program through an institution? I am not familiar with how corporations are proceeding with this part of the program, and I look forward to learning more about if this type of program fits into the definition of distance learning which has been provided and if so, then how?
The future of distance learning seems to be astounding. The world is becoming smaller by the day with the amount of technology, modes of communication, and potential to reach others around the world. I began taking correspondence classes via the postal service when in high school twenty years ago, and I learned this week that this type of course ultimately evolved into today’s distance learning. Trends in communication are changing daily and with this means the definition of distance learning will continue to change as we progress into the future. I look forward to seeing how this type of learning will be used in K-12 education for my young children as they begin their education, in higher education and how it will evolve from now when I am a student to when my children are pursuing their degrees, and in the corporate environment where the need for new hire training and follow-up training is in constant need.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson.