Making Distance Education Better: A Reflection

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Creating quality distance education courses has become, and will continue to be, a moving target.  The rapid advances in technology, especially in communication methods and authoring tools, will push how students expect to receive information on their own terms while instructors will have to be aware of how that same information will need to be published.  Fortunately, distance education is being more readily accepted throughout the professional world as stated by Dr. George Siemens (n.d.) which will assist in acceptance of standards and best practices for the education and professional world.  As instructional designers, we must accept the fact that this area of education is still relatively new and developing.

            “Distance education practitioners and researchers have always been concerned with how much interactivity a distance course could provide for students, since interaction is considered a necessary ingredient for a successful learning experience” (Beldarrain, 2006).  Creating true interactive learning communities requires instructors who recognize the benefits and limitations of the online learning environment.  This ability will evolve as students grow with technologies that allow them to reach peers throughout the world. International workgroups will no longer be seen as unique.  Instead, a truly global perspective will be applied to learning and developing opinions.  To accomplish this, instructors should be “…cautioned against modeling distance education courses after traditional lectures, but instead should include interaction as the foundation of effective distance education practice” (Beldarrain, 2006).

            As I continue my development as a distance education instructional designer, I find defending my profession to be an ongoing task.  Traditional educators see very little benefit to moving content online and broadening access for non-traditional students.  There appears to be a perception that education must be endured instead of experienced. I frequently see this with physicians and senior medical educators.  Their concern over a lack of interaction among online students is mitigated when I point out there is generally very little interaction in their face to face courses (usually due to the instructor’s demeanor and presentation etiquette).  This is a fine line to walk, but generally a demonstration of the technology helps to alleviate concerns, especially for webinars and virtual classrooms.  I also concede that there are some subjects that must be presented face to face, particularly those that are heavy in hands on skills.  In those cases, I recommend presenting the orientation and introductory material online so the student is better prepared to enter the hands on session.

            These efforts and experiences underscore the importance of being a proper steward for both of my professions.  The world of distance education needs me, and all of my peers, to build content that meets the “…extent of level to which university learners have considered, involved, and entrusted their current academic assets to produce the new educational offering” (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009).  This requires me to meet the same levels of academic integrity that traditional education has met while incorporating innovative, interactive technologies and techniques.  Some of these efforts will be less than effective, in which case I will need to accept criticism and adjust the method of instruction to better meet the needs of students and faculty.  I also need to convince my emergency medical services peers that online education can provide a viable resource to obtaining and keeping the certifications and educational requirements dictated by professional boards.  To accomplish this, I will need to create relevant, interesting content that will have to be continuously updated as new research adjusts the medical professions views on providing care.

            Today’s instructional designer for distance education works in interesting times.  While distance education is becoming more readily accepted, the ability to deliver that content is also expanding rapidly.  Traditional instructional techniques must be recognized and accounted for while incorporating new technologies and techniques. The professional challenge is exciting and will continue to be so long as those of us who have taken on this role build courses that meet the needs of our students, and exceed the needs of our faculty.

Resources

Beldarrain, Y. (2006).  Distance education trends:  Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance education 27(2).  139-153

Gambescia, S., Paolucci, R. (2009).  Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings.  Online journal of distance learning administration XII(I).

Siemens, G. (n.d.).  The future of distance education [online video].  Retrieved August 18, 2013 from http:/waldenu.edu

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