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:
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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 http://elearningindustry.com/are-you-an-instructional-designer-a-learning-game-designer-or-both.html
Flores, J. G. (Dec 17, 2014). Distance Learning is Revolutionizing Education, but There Is More To Be Done. THE Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2014/12/17/distance-learning-is-revolutionizing-education-but-there-is-more-to-be-done.aspx
Moore, M.G., and Kearsley, G. (2011). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning, 3rd Edition. Belmont: Cengage Learning.