EDUC-6135 – Distance Education Defined

Distance Education Defined

Before starting this program I had several years of experience as an online distance learner at the graduate level, I had created, led and participated in many remote corporate training sessions, and I had taken many Computer Based Training classes, both online and via CD. As a result, I understood distance education from the perspective of the learner and to mean the consumption of education at a distance, with the consumer (learner) being at a distance from the source of the education. Resources this week have influenced my personal definition of distance education by reminding me that distance education encompasses any “institution-based formal education where the learning group is separated” (Simonson, 2008).

Because learners are separated from each other, from their instructor and from the resources that form the content of their education, technology must function as the connecting glue. Tools to facilitate communication and collaboration, tools to deliver content in engaging ways, tools for course management, and tools to evaluate instructional design and learner performance, all work together to create the distance education experience. A revised definition of distance education, then, would be the delivery, through technology, of institution-based formal education from a distributed group of providers for consumption by a distributed group of learners, connected to each other through technology.

My vision for the future of distance learning as it continues on a path of evolution and change is an exciting one. As advances in communications and information race forward, I imagine corresponding exponential growth in technology and the tools available to support distance education. For the consumer, advances in mobile technology, in readers, IPads, Wikis, Course Management Systems, Web 3.0, and the tools that are just beyond our reach will have dramatic influences on the effectiveness and affordability of Distance Education.  Current trends in the field of distance education indicate a shift in perspectives and frameworks, with student interaction at the heart of learner-centered environments (Beldarrain, 2006). This means the advancement of MMORPGs and Augmented Reality as viable elements of Distance Education. For the provider, schools might be open all day and all year, with groups of students rotating in and out of session.  Classrooms might include students of different ages. A multi-disciplinary approach toward teaching will result in longer-term projects that cut across disciplines, combining the subject matter of previously separate classes. Multiple choice tests will be replaced by new kinds of assessments that measure the acquisition of higher-order skills. (Bingham, n.d.).

I am in agreement with Bingham’s vision: “These new models of learning foster communities of lifelong learners, where intellect and cooperation are valued. Within these communities, decisions will be made by those in the best position to make them – by students, teachers, and educational administrators… As distance learning technologies become more powerful and plentiful, and as the needs of society more urgently call for a new model of education, American schools will be caught in the irresistible forces of change (National Academy of Sciences, 1996).

Mind Map of Distance Education

Mind Map

Mind Map

Beldarrain, Y., (2006). Distance Education Trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, Vol. 27, No. 2. (August 2006), pp. 139-153.

Bingham, J., Davis, T., Moore, C., (n.d.). Emerging Technologies in Distance Learning. Retrieved July 3, 2011 from

National Academy of Sciences, (1996, February 22). Reinventing schools: The technology is now! A new model for education [WWW document].

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.)


About Darlene Loebel
Software consultant with 20 years experience in Software Engineering and graduate student in Instructional Design & Technology at Walden University.

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