A Discussion on Distance Learning Technologies


August 8, 2013 by idinnovation

Distance learning is used in organizations to provide information to personnel in areas such as product, policies, procedures, skills and instruction expert lectures (Noe, 2013).  The very first component that should be considered in instructional design are the learners, followed by the content, the method and materials, the environment and technology (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).   According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2012) and adopted by the Encyclopedia Britannica distance learning can be defined as “institutionalized formal education where the learning and teaching groups are separated and active technological systems are used to connect resources, instructors and learners. In order for organizations to compete in today’s markets, they must provide a quality service or product (Noe, 2013).

Distance learning is divided into three models: online, blended or hybrid courses, and web-facilitated courses. The Web and by extension e-learning can support and improve effective learner-to-leaner interactions grounded on social constructivist theory.  The use of Web 2.0 technologies such as E-mail, listservs, and discussion boards allow learners to collaborate with each other.  Online instructors are able to provide necessary guidance through the various tools which provide for both synchronous and asynchronous advice, coaching and feedback (Woo and Reeves, 2007). Synchronous learning permits, trainers, instructors and learners to interact with each other in real time.  Asynchronous learning does not permit learners, instructors and facilitators to interact in real-time (Noe, 2013). Interactive activity in learning is essential to the process of knowledge acquisition and development of cognitive and physical skills (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

Technology software requirements and functionality need to be troubleshot prior to the beginning of the course and both instructors and learners must ensure they have the necessary applications to complete learning objectives (Hybrid Courses, 2012). Some of the technologies or technological advancements used in training are described below.

Discussion Forums Also alternately known as a discussion group or board are Internet based message board type of medium where ideas are shared (Stone, 2010). Discussion technologies are participatory in nature and require that a number of individuals read and respond to each other’s post (The Technology of Distance Education, 2010), typically structured as a series of discussion “threads” (Stone, 2010). Discussion boards in distance learning are recognized as an asynchronous communication tool and are a collaboration tool that can be used to create content and be utilized as an individual or group study guide (Safran, Helic, & Gütl, 2007). Dysthe (as cited by Andresen, 2009) contends leaners  should be assigned reading assignments and have time to reflect on them as well as any discussion topics or questions and then present examples to other learners and finally defend those examples within a discussion group.

Podcast A multimedia file that is available on the internet that can be downloaded to a portable device (Stone, 2010). They are used to present content in various formats such as online journals and newsletters,  Podcast a can be an effective instructional choice for developing research skills and reflection skills; these skills are associated with self-monitoring and self-assessment (The Technology of Distance Education, 2010).  Podcast allow students to take responsibility for their own learning.  Research indicated that online students that listen to podcast demonstrate more effective learning, greater satisfaction, greater autonomy, and greater motivation than online students who do not (The Technology of Distance Education, 2010).

RSS (Rich Site Summary) Is a format for delivering regularly changing web content (Stone, 2010). The design of RSS is very simple: users subscribe to a feeds they are interested in and “poll” the feed periodically to receive updates (Liu, Ramasubramanian, & G¨un Sirer, 2005). RSS content is encoded in XML and displayed by a feed-reader or an RSS-integrated Web browser. The major benefit to both instructors and students is they can be notified of updates from blogs, wikis, news, media and research sites which is an efficient use of time instead of spending valuable time researching for checking updates RSS technology does it automatically (Duffy, Peter and Bruns, & Axel, 2006).

Blog A website or feature of a website that is managed by an individual or group of users that records content on a regular basis (Stone, 2010). Blogs are both easily published and accessed via the Internet (Beldarrain, 2006) and function as asynchronous learning tools (The Technology of Distance Education, 2010). The nature of Blogging promotes the exploration of topics, enhance writing skills, can be used as student portfolios that keep a record of a student’s progress, accomplishments and reflections in a central location. Readers of blogs do not edit the postings but rather comment and share ideas with other readers and commentators as a result the primary value of blog’s comes from the blog posting, reader-reader or of the two (Stone, 2010). Additionally, teaching models that integrate Web 2.0 technologies such as Wikis or blogs present the opportunity for learners to have more control over their learning and therefore might be more effective at delivering instructional strategies that support knowledge construction (Beldarrain, 2006).

Wikis A website developed by a community of users where any users can add or edit content based on user set roles (Stone, 2010). The term Wiki whose origins can be found in the Hawaiian word wiki which means “quick” is generally viewed as a space that can be created and edited by individuals or groups (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Wiki pages are loosely structured but linked in ways that make sense to the users, have embedded Internet resources, are extremely collaborative and is an exceptional tool for online collaborative writing assignments (Beldarrain, 2006). Wiki presents tremendous opportunity to not only practice reading and writing skills but also encourages reflection, knowledge distribution and analytical thinking (Brown & Palincsar 1989; Scardamalia & Bereiter 2003, as cited in Trentin, 2009). More on Ward Cunningham, inventor of wikis.

Allen & Seaman, (2003) contend that online learning is growing rapidly. Software and telecommunication innovations are enabling and encouraging the development of distance education systems (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). It is worth noting that currently students say distance learning is not their first choice for learning but would like to the option to learn at a distance to be made available to them (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). It is imperative for instructional designers to research and evaluative different methodologies as it relates to distance learning. The field of instructional design needs to reach a consensus on what learning theories are appropriate for the design of distance education.  Once that is done designers will be able to  create learning materials that are effective and relevant to learners.


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

Brandon., Bill (2004). Closing the loop in e-learning development: How to reconnect instructional design and project management. Retrieved on August 8, 2013, from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/283/closing-the-loop-in-e-learning-development-how-to-reconnect-instructional-design-and-project-management

Germain-Rutherford, A., & Kerr, B. (2008). An inclusive approach to online learning environments: Models and resources. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education TOJDE, 9(2). Retrieved from http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde30/pdf/article_2.pdf

Hybrid Courses: Welcome. (2012). UW-Milwaukee. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/index.cfm

Liu, H., Ramasubramanian, V., & Sirer, E. G. (2005). Client behavior and feed characteristics of RSS, a publish-subscribe system for web micronews. Proceeding IMC ’05 Proceedings of the 5th ACM SIGCOMM conference on Internet Measurement. Retrieved from http://www.cs.cornell.edu/people/egs/papers/rsssurvey.pdf

Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training and development (6th ed.). New York,        NY: McGraw Hill.

Safran, C., Helic, D., & Gütl, C. (2007). E-Learning practices and Web 2.0. Conference ICL2007. Retrieved from http://telearn.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/19/72/60/PDF/123_Final_Paper.pdf

Samah, N. A., Yahaya, N., & Ali, M. B. (2011). Individual differences in online personalized learning environment. Educational Research and Reviews, 6(7), 516-521.

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

Stone, T. (2010) Web 2.0 and Social Learning Best Practices. Retrieved on October 21, 2012, from http://www.training-partners.com/downloads/elearning/Web2_bestpractices_0910v1.pdf

The Technology of Distance Education (2010). [Video File]. Retrieved from http://alturl.com/z9mw4

Trentin, G. G. (2009). Using a wiki to evaluate individual contribution to a collaborative learning project. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(1), 43-55. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00276.x

Woo, Y. and Reeves, T. (2007) Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2007, Pages 15-25, ISSN 1096-7516.



2 thoughts on “A Discussion on Distance Learning Technologies

  1. Florence Martin says:

    Good summary, Sharifa. Do you still subscribe to RSS feeds?

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