If You Can’t Lick Distance Learning, Join ‘em

 

The irony about distance learning is that it eliminates distance, and this has opened up a Pandora’s Box for staid old universities with centuries of teaching history and large campuses. They are suddenly being forced to confront the harsh new truth that education is slowly but inexorably moving entirely online.

Distance learning is turning out to be a bigger disruptive force than anyone could have imagined a couple of years ago. It’s not just about a secondary class of students who are distance learners. Even traditional classroom education is under siege, as school budgets are cut and educators use cheaper modes of interactive online teaching more and more to guide and stay in touch with students.

The lack of geographic boundaries and low barriers to entry for distance learning are bringing together different social clusters on the same page. Entire Masters Degree courses are being moved online as is, facilitating students who have other responsibilities and were previously unable to attempt these classroom courses.

It’s a stunning development, and shows how disruptive distance learning has become for traditional universities and colleges. Purdue is offering an entire Masters online. They are offering graduate degrees through distance learning to corporate employees unable to attend in person. Existing students who were called up to serve in the Iraq war continued their studies online. What we’re seeing here is the steady elimination of the difference in the quality and content between classroom and online education.

Pilot programs offering free entry to an online course to anyone anywhere with no educational prerequisites are in progress in both Stanford and MIT. All it needs is for the student to learn. If the student completes the course, he or she gets the certificate – no fees, no prerequisites, no classroom teaching and no textbooks to buy. The best part is that the online course content is exactly the same as the classroom course being taught in person by the same professors.

They are still trying to figure out how to authenticate identities and ensure honesty when students submit coursework. It’s just a matter of designing the right interactive course material and tests that are suitable for the eLearning model and can be scaled for any number of students. But we’re just getting warmed up, and there’s a lot more that’s going to change. The latest development is the introduction of a social element into distance learning management systems.

One of the biggest problems with eLearning has been the lack of a group structure that helps students learn from each other, compete to aim higher and be more productive. There’s not much point in recording a classroom lecture and uploading it, expecting the online student to do just as well. The result will just not be the same.

Instead, the keyword now for eLearning is interaction – interaction as an online group with a virtual campus where they can hang out. Learning management systems are being designed to create not just to deliver online courses like the CNA HealthPro Dental Professional Liability Risk Management Program, but also to be part of an online campus environment which motivates students to form groups, participate and share their ideas and knowledge.

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