Theories that inform my practice of distance learning

When I think about the learners I know who are currently using distance education (including myself), I can’t help but think that we chose this method of learning because of its convenience or because it accommodates circumstances that affect us – location, access, work schedules, cost, etc.  So, it’s possible that this wasn’t the “best” method for me as a learner, but rather the most accessible or most convenient.

Until last semester, I had little experience with distance learning, either as a student or as an instructor.  Now as a student in a distance learning program, I think I have a better understanding of the theories and research discussed in our reading this week.  The adjustments I had to make as a learner during my first semester, helped me to understand how best I learn “from a distance” and to have confidence in directing my own learning in this format.

Moore’s three-part model of the types of interaction in distance learning, “learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner” (Moore & Kearsley, 2011, p. 215) really resonated for me in my professional practice.  Combined with Anderson’s equivalency theorem that “Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student-teacher, student-student, student-content) is at a high level” (Moore & Kearsley, 2011, p. 215), I think this model of interaction accurately describes my current approach or teaching style.  I’ve spent much of my career as a program coordinator for out-of-school time programs and while I did not facilitate learning from a distance, I consistently use these various forms of interaction in my work. 

As I was reading about distance learning this week, I also reflected on my recent experience as a team member of the Givercraft Community, an online MOOC for 6th-12th graders, using MinecraftEdu and Lois Lowry’s, “The Giver.”  I am excited that I will be able to revisit this project again from an online or distance learning angle because of what I experienced in my interactions with the students and teachers involved in Givercraft.  This time around, I am very interested in the dialogue between game designers, teachers, and students, through the MinecraftEdu platform and how we use other tools to improve that dialogue.  The dialogue that grew out of Givercraft began to inform and change the structure or game design in real time and on a daily basis, which was a challenging yet exciting aspect of the project.

I see several parallel elements in gaming and learning design compared with distance learning (and design).  Boller (2014) shares five (5) tips that can help instructional designers become better at gamification.  I think the same tips can also be applied to distance learning:

  1. You have to play games to design them” –this may see obvious, but you have to experience distance learning to design a course or distance learning environment. I feel I have a better sense of what a learner might experience, now that I am actively participating in a distance learning program.
  1. A game goal is not a learning goal” –learning from a distance is not the goal, the tools you use to learn from a distance are also not the goal, ultimately the goal is to learn the content or skills, so the distance and the tools should work towards that end.
  1. A learning game must be challenging yet balanced” –distance learning has to hook learners, appropriately support their learning, and keep them motivated to learn, without frustrating or overwhelming them so they can’t learn or they give up the learning experience.
  1. The game mechanics and game elements chosen should match the learning goal(s)” –distance learning content, structure/design and dialogue, should support the learning goals. This could mean being either more selective or more flexible about the content, design, and dialogue in order to better meet students’ learning goals as they could possibly change or evolve throughout the learning experience.                                                                                        
  2. Learning games should be created based on the science of how we learn” –distance learning should be grounded in how best its users learn. Yet another seemingly obvious point, but still difficult to do well as a distance learning designer and as an instructor.  The degree of distance or interaction that is utilized in a particular course, must be informed by everything we know and understand about how learners learn best.

If a classroom teacher has a student that misses several days or weeks of school due to illness or other circumstances, and the teachers sends homework to the student, isn’t that a bit like distance learning?  What structure or design, choices in content, and dialogue does the teacher then need to have in place, in order to accommodate that learner?

Flores (2014) writes, “There are three key components of distance learning: the educational content, the platform on which the content is hosted and the network through which the content is delivered. Distance learning can only provide a high-quality learning experience when there are high-speed networks and cutting edge devices to support a dynamic learning experience.” 

It’s clear that with technological advancements, distance learning can become more accessible to learners; as a learning designer, it’s important to not let the technology become the focus of the learning but rather an effective tool that complements each learner’s needs and goals.  On the other hand, equitable access to adequate technology needed for distance learning is still not available for many learners, an issue for another discussion!



Boller, S.  (April 11, 2014).  Are You an Instructional Designer, a Learning Game Designer or Both?.  eLearning Industry.  Retrieved from

 Flores, J. G. (Dec 17, 2014).  Distance Learning is Revolutionizing Education, but There Is More To Be Done.  THE Journal.  Retrieved from

Moore, M.G., and Kearsley, G.  (2011).  Distance Education:  A Systems View of Online Learning, 3rd Edition.  Belmont:  Cengage Learning.

4 thoughts on “Theories that inform my practice of distance learning

  1. I think your first paragraph sums it up for many educators taking distance classes. If you do not live near a college campus or your busy distance classes can be convenient, so I am not most pick them because they are drawn to this method in itself. I am also interested in dialogue because I believe it helps me to learn better. I do know some this is not true for. I also agree the experience of distance education is based on the technology. Many have a bad experience due to technical problems. This does not mean that course design is not important. Thanks for sharing you got me thinking.


    1. I completed most of my educational degrees by means of distance learning. You posted about the changes from face-to-face learning and distance learning. While I was attending on campus courses, I realized that I didn’t have the time to “socialize” with my peers because of other obligations. However, attending distance learning eased the pressure of be social with my peers. I could finish my course work when it was convenient for me and permitted me to allot time for my peers.
      In reading Chapter 10, the effectiveness of distance learning are changing in a fast pace. So far, distance learning have shifted to where society doesn’t necessary have to attend face-to-face interaction to learn, but rather then creating a learning environment that conducive to individual needs and customs.


  2. Your first paragraph is right on, as Matthew also stated. I don’t have the time nor the interest to sit in a room full of students and listen to a professor lecture. I enjoy taking courses in the convenience of my own home. A few years ago I was taking courses for a masters in Sped, the courses met once a week via video conference. I didn’t mind video conferencing because I felt like I was touching base with the instructor each week and if I had any questions I could ask them at the end of the conference. Much like our Twitter sessions. You wrote about some interesting points in sharing the 5 tips. It would be very hard to design a online course with out having taken one and experiencing the different aspects.


  3. Mia,

    When I started my distance learning course for this program, it was about convenience. I knew with a full time teaching career, there was no way I could get a degree with attending a regular “classroom based” learning setting. There is very little time to drive to attend a class. Also, with the distance learning course we were apart of together “Givercraft MOOC” I found that our meetings were conversations and making sure everyone was being successful, or needed extra support. It was an awesome feeling, even though I have never met you in person, through our course, if we had a problem or needed to vent, you and I created a friendship and would contact each other outside of our regular scheduled meetings. This created a non-stressful learning environment. It was easy during our conversations to refer to websites, many different screenshots. We were always constantly communicating through google groups, google chat…etc this was distance learning. Whether it was convenient or the best way to take a course, it was another way to communicate and learn from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

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