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 alleys taking money only to print flimsy degrees on tissue paper?  Or do you see innovation at work, with people leveraging the technology of today to make learning attainable to everyone not just the elite few with bountiful resources?

No matter your impression of distance education there is no denying that it is giving opportunity to those who otherwise might have none.  Som Naidu (2014) points out that distance education: “…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 today some may view online degrees as something less valid than their brick and mortar counterparts, an argument can be made that in 10 years time no one will bat an eye.  Accreditation of online programs is strict and for-profit “diploma-mills” now find it harder to convince people of their value. Transparency in the system has vastly improved the public’s perception.


Instructional Design for the WIN

Some content is difficult to teach online (but not impossible) and some content is definitely not suitable at all for 100% online education (I hope my doctor has hands-on experience).  Today there are greater tools available to instructional designers than ever before allowing them to create asynchronous learning events with a higher level of efficiency than ever before.  Harnessing the internet, designers can bring the classroom to the learners rather than the other way around.  Skype or other conferencing methods have made the internet a classroom of its own.

Want to make content your learners can manipulate and interact with – but you are not a programmer?  Use Captivate, Storyline, Lectora or any of the myriad of other editing tools on the market to quickly create content 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 an authoring tool and then have a Learning Management System host the content to the world.  As instructional designers, our charter must now be to create accurate, useful, engaging content at the highest possible level all while being prepared for it to be scrutinized.  We [the ID champions] are the standard bearers working tirelessly to legitimize distance learning – our 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; we are now reaching more learners than ever before.  We now have a greater responsibility to advance our craft by carefully growing our knowledge and sharing our insight amongst others in the field.

There is a need growing for distance learning content that will not stop.  Bear in mind: “In 2013, approximately 70% of institutions indicated that online instruction was critical to their long-term plans, up from 49% in 2003.” (Simonson, Smaldino, Zadcek, 2014. p.4.) The need is there, it is up to us to be ready to meet it.  For me personally, I started off by only creating in-person content and gradually my work balance has tilted to mostly online taught or e-learning content.  We can’t hold on to old ways of doing things and old ideologies exclusively if we want our content to be fresh and relevant today.



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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