The “C-Word”

April 14, 2008

Moore and Kearsley (2005) state that “Distance education is about change”. A simple statement; a lot of impact. For as much as we pride ourselves on innovation and the evolution of society and technology, society isn’t all that keen on innovation or evolution. And it’s very suspicious of technology. For these are either agents or effects of change.

Whereas change once represented the onslaught of nuisances such as a de-regulated phone industry, property taxes, and the cessation of home deliveries by the milkman, the change ushered in by contemporary technology is truly frightening to those who are merely comfortable in their routines as well as the honest-to-goodness Luddites in our midst.

It’s because the technological changes span our world and dig deep into our personal lives. The ubiquitous PC allows all of us to be producers of information. And even as consumers, many of us have discontinued our subscriptions to the Sunday paper in favor of our RSS feeds and beloved blogs.

And with so many sources of information, the shelf life of news, data, and other forms of information has shortened dramatically. Likewise, innovation has sped up. Computer memory doubles while our personal memory shrinks in response to the cognitive barrage we face daily. And in many other instances, we cannot keep up with the pace of innovation.

This causes problems and provides opportunities for distance learning. On one hand, we must develop systems for well beyond the horizon instead of just around the corner. And the artifacts from today’s lessons must be developed so to remain useful in the future. Teaching strategies, learning theories, and other elements that shape our instructional efforts must evolve for use in new systems or face obsolescence.

On he other hand, increases in bandwidth efficiency, memory capacity, and resource accessibility will continue to increase the possibilities for presenting meaningful educational experiences and activities to a greater variety of learners. While the traditional classroom may not vanish, it will open up to more distributed forms of education. Hybrid courses—with face-to-face meetings supported by online resources and tools—will become more of the standard. In drawing from more remote resources we will become more familiar with different societies and cultures.

To do this more effectively, we will need to conduct research that establishes delivery systems, teaching strategies, and theories on learning that span, and include, the diversity of cultures that we will be drawn increasingly closer to. Research will also need to focus on the applicability and effectiveness of emerging technologies so to best implement them within educational settings.

Most important is our need to change—to realize we must constantly let go of worn-out or broken practices, beliefs, and attitudes so that we can make use of innovations. But, we must also continue to cast a critical eye towards each element of modernization. For new does not always mean better.

Moore, M. and Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance Education A Systems View,
Belmont, CA: Thomson.

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