An Instructional Designer’s Reflections on Distance Learning

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December 23, 2012 by idinnovation

The profile of the distance learner is changing from adults that are place bound, goal orientated and naturally motivated to one that is diverse, dynamic, younger and responsive to rapid technological changes (Dabbagh, 2007). Distance learning has immersed itself in learning and development programs in the US whether it’s simple office training and development software, human resources onboarding, harassment and office policy training or job specific targeted training.  Organizations are replacing training travel, location, and loss of productivity with instantly available e-learning access (Moller, Foshay and Huett, (2008).

ID-10090170Web 2.0 technologies that encourage cloud computing technology have directly impacted the educational market by increasing the offering of mobile connectivity, quality streaming video, digital textbooks and “just-in-time” information has promoted the push of vast amounts of information to be stored on the Web (Anderson, Boyles, & Rainie, 2012). Web 2.0 applications are predominantly utilized in sectors other than education however, Web 2.0 technologies provide remarkable benefits to learners through their learner engaging functionality and should be used in the next generation of course management systems (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  Distance learning is moving towards more of a constructivist approach to teaching and learning and students are expected to actively construct knowledge for themselves through interaction with both the material and instructor (Boyd, 2004). Maloney (as cited in Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012) contends that the focus of the Web is innovation, creation and collaboration and Web 2.0 technologies encourage a more participatory role for learners.

The purest form of distance learning (online learning) occurs at different times and different place which is called asynchronous learning (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  Some consider the greatest benefit of an online education to be accessibility or what I consider the characteristics of Moore’s transactional distance theory (LaMartina, 2012). His theory suggests that there is communication among individuals, the environment and the patterns of behavior in a given situation. Furthermore transactional distance has distinguishing characteristics of separation of teacher and learner and is relative rather than absolute that is conducive to a ID-10050904range of structures, communication, and learner autonomy as long as the instructor and learners are spatially separate. However, learners contend it is the cost of distance learning courses that is the greatest benefit. Distance learning courses tend to cost less even if they are offered by brick-and-mortar universities and students can avoid additional cost such as room and board and commuting cost (LaMartina, 2012).

Siemens’s contends that more people are participating in distance learning and there is a growing acceptance of distance learning which is fueled by:

  • The increase in online communication as “distance” is not as much of an issue as previously thought.
  • Because people are having practical experiences with new internet and distance learning tools they become more familiar and therefore acceptance increases. The level of comfort people have with distance learning is growing.
  • Global diversity is increasing because of the ability to communicate with diverse and global groups via the internet and easily.

Research indicates that distance learning courses are equal to if not better than traditional face-to-face classroom instruction; however, distance learning courses have significantly lower rates of completion (Anderson, Boyles, & Rainie, 2012).  One of the advantages of distance learning is that students do not need to make time for classroom “seat time” and can instead plan time into their schedules to complete assignments. It is important to note however, that many learners feel the biggest drawback to distance learning is the lack of face time.  It seems therefore that one of the major advantages is also considered a disadvantage for some learners (LaMartina, 2012).

ID-10020757A common mistake in distance learning design is not adequately planning for interactivity; the designer should plan activities that allow for student group work and encourage and promote a supportive social learning environment; a course that has appropriately planned for distance learning has activities that encourage interactivity (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  The instructor is responsible for maximizing student interaction in an online environment (Beldarrain, 2006). The characteristics of distance learning tools encourage and promote better instruction than tools used in traditional learning (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012)  and provide students sufficient freedom which both requires and encourages them to control their learning process (Boyd, 2004).  Research indicated that learners are concerned about instructor feedback, course structure and organization, hands on experience, technical issues and instructor accessibility for student questions (Schmidt & Gallegos, 2001).

The field of instructional design and educational technology needs to develop standards for e-learning.  It is my belief that the credibility of instructional designers which often is questioned is at risk of invalidation if training is being


designed by people who lack the competency to design e-learning effectively and with the appropriate learning theory approach (Moller, Foshay and Huett, 2008).  This course provided practical knowledge and real-life scenarios on topics ranging from the foundations and theory of distance learning, distance learning technologies, learners and design techniques for instructors and facilitators to the future of distance learning.  As an instructional designer I will be able to use the information to effectively design distance learning materials.


Anderson, J. Q., Boyles, J. L., & Rainie, L. (2012, July 27). Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The future impact of the Internet on higher education: Experts expect more-efficient collaborative environments and new grading schemes; they worry about massive online courses, the shift away from on-campus life. Retrieved December 18, 2012, from

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139–153.

Boyd, D. (2004). The characteristics of successful online students. New Horizons in Adult Education18(2), 31-39. Retrieved from

Dabbagh, N. (2007). The online learner: Characteristics and pedagogical implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217- 226.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

LaMartina, D. (2012, August 10). The Future of Distance Learning: Why 77% of Universities Already Offer Online Courses. edcetera. Retrieved December 18, 2012, from

Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001). Distance learning: Issues and concerns of distance learners. Journal of Industrial Technology, 17(3). Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2012). The Future of Distance Education [Video File]. 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.


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