What would it take to remain relevant in distance learning?

Without an understanding of the pedagogical evolution it can be tempting to say that relevance in distance learning can be maintained by staying informed of new technologies and programs.  For most educators, we try to stay up-to-date by reading articles, integrating new tech tools and strategies, attending conferences, joining peer learning networks, following innovators on twitter, etc.  If you teach long enough, you can even remember when those strategies were very different because of technology and resources available to you earlier in your career.  However, as Anderson and Dron (2011) describe the periods of pedagogical shifts in distance learning, “each era developed distinct pedagogies, technologies, learning activities, and assessment criteria, consistent with the social worldview of the era in which they developed.”

I like the analogy used by Moore and Kearsley (2011) in comparing teaching at a distance to that in a classroom as being like a cinematic movie is to a stage play; “there are basic similarities, but also very different technologies, different crafts, different economies, and different forms of organization” (p. 283).  As distance educators, we need to incorporate more than just the technology available and the pedagogies we have learned in this course.   As educators (whether in the classroom or at a distance) we can remain relevant by studying and improving our understanding of the economic, political, and social changes that are impacting the world of our learners.  If our overall goal is to prepare them to function and even better, succeed in that world, we need to understand the content and context with which they will need to apply what they learn.  Regardless of how a distance educator or even students themselves believe that learning best occurs, the environment in which that learned knowledge and skills will be applied is complex, dynamic, and interconnected; how technology is applied in that environment will be an important consideration for the distance educator.

Moore and Kearsley (2011) share Liz Burge’s recommendation of McLuhan’s four Laws of Media, posed as questions:

  • What does it (the technology) enhance or intensify?
  • What does it render obsolete or displace?
  • What does it retrieve that was previously [made obsolete]?
  • What does it produce or become when [pushed] to an extreme? (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1988, p. 7)

Nworie (2012) examines distance education by applying leadership theories and makes the case for effective leadership as being significant in driving distance education’s progress and success.  If the distance educator is different from the classroom teacher, then the distance education administrator also needs a different skillset than the school principal or higher education administrator.  The pedagogical background relative to distance education will enable a distance education administrator to ensure a comprehensive approach towards policies, technologies, facilities, programs, course design, faculty training, student support, etc.  Sandeen (2014) highlighted three important trends in adult education with respect to the administration of the programs:

  1. Variable Wrap-Around Services and Flexible Tuition Models
  2. Analytics and Data-Drive Management
  3. Alternative Credentials

demonstrating that adult distance educators need to consider external influences and motivations of adult learners.  From a social perspective, Morrison (2013) blogged about three social trends in online learning – “collaborating seamlessly, humanizing interactions (including choices in what tools are used), and personalizing learning.”  It can be challenging to work in what Sandeen (2014) calls “increasingly dynamic and potentially disruptive transformation”.  This is the constant in distance education, that it will change very quickly and frequently, and we need to take an active role in defining and shaping what the field is and has the potential to become.


Anderson, T. & Dron, J.  (2011).  Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12 (3). Retrieved from:  http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/890/1663.

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

Morrison, D. (December 13, 2013).  Three Social Trends That Will Influence Education in 2014. Online Learning Insights (Blog).  Retrieved from:    https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/three-social-trends-that-will-influence-education-in-2014/.

Nworie, J.  (2012).  Applying Leadership Theories to Distance Education Leadership.  Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 15 (5).  Retrieved from:  http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter154/nworie154.html.

Sandeen, C.  (2014).  Three Trends Worth Watching for Continuing Education Leaders.  The Evollution:  Illuminating the LifeLong Learning Movement (www.evolllution.com).  Retrieved from: http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/trends-worth-watching-continuing-education-leaders/.

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