A Reflection on Distance Education

Distance education perceptions down the road

When you think of distance education what comes to mind?  Do you see shady colleges predating on unsuspecting learners in dark back alleys taking money and printing flimsy degrees on tissue paper?  Or do you see innovation at work, leveraging the technology of today to make learning attainable to everyone not just the elite few with esoteric ties and bountiful resources?

No matter your impression of distance education there is no denying that it is giving opportunity to those who otherwise might not have it.  As Som Naidu (2014) points out about distance education: “It was born out of the need to serve a socioeconomic and political agenda geared towards improving the quality of life of the not so privileged members of our society” (p. 263.) While some may view an online degree as less worthy today, I argue that in 10 years no one will bat an eye.  Accreditation is strict and for-profit “diploma-mills” are finding it harder and harder to convince people of their value. Transparency has vastly improved the public’s perception.


Instructional design for the WIN

While some content is difficult to teach online (difficult but not impossible) and some content is patently not for 100% online education (I would want my doctor to have actually put hands on real people before me.)  There are greater tools available today available to instructional designers than ever before.  Harnessing the internet, you can bring the classroom to you learners instead of the other way around using Skype or other conferencing methods.  Want to make content your learners can manipulate and interact with but don’t know how to code in flash?  Use Captivate, Storyline, Lectora or any of the other editing tools on the market today to quickly create content by yourself that 20 years ago would have required a team of programmers.  Want to let learners consume content on a mobile device?  Flip a setting on your authoring tool and have a Learning Management System host the content.  Our charter as instructional designers must now be to create accurate, useful, engaging content at the highest possible level and be prepared for it to be scrutinized.  We are the standard bearers that legitimize distance learning – our due diligence is a reflection of the entire field.


Continuous improvement – Distance Education

We as instructional designers are living in a world custom made for us to succeed in reaching more learners than ever before.  With this great reach, we have a greater responsibility to advance our craft by taking care to grow our knowledge and share our insight.  There is a need growing for distance learning content that will not stop.  As Simonson, Smaldino and Zadcek (2014) point out: “In 2013, approximately 70% of institutions indicated that online instruction was critical to their long-term plans, up from 49% in 2003.” (p.4.) The need is there, it is up to us to be ready to meet it.  I started off only creating in-person courses and gradually my work has shifted to online or e-learning to the point that now I almost exclusively create online content.  We can’t hold on to the old way of doing things unless we want to be washed away with the new tide.



Naidu, S. (2014). Looking back, looking forward: the invention and reinvention of distance education. Distance Education, 35(3), 263–270.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S, & Zvacek, S. (10/2014). Teaching and Learning at a Distance.

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