Sunday, October 19, 2014

Distributed Learning

The more I learn about distance learning, the more I see distributed learning as being a viable solution for both higher education and business.  First, it allows for the centralization of content for student access when it is convenient for them (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2012).  Second, it allows for flexibility in instruction and communication.  As a blended model, there are opportunities for face to face meetings as well as online discussion.  I believe that a combination of both might be a solution to some of the problems surrounding online discussion forums as described by Dron, Seidel, and Litten (2004), Swan (2002), and Thomas (2002).  These problems include lack of buy-in by the student, and negative student perceptions of both the purpose and results of discussion.

As part of an assignment whereby I am tasked with with providing information to a training manager interested in improving communication between employees during training and the use of centralized content, I developed a single page information sheet to cover the main points to consider when converting a face to face training to a distributed, or blended format.  This document is available by clicking here.

To summarize, when considering converting a training program, there are several factors to take into consideration:

  • Technology Needs and Specifications
  • Changing Roles & Personnel Issues
  • Community Building

Simonson, et al. (2012), discuss the various technological aspects of distributed and distance learning.  Beyond the server-side hardware and software needs, there will be issues such as security, access, and client-side software / hardware needs.   A company's IT department should be able to provide information on policy and available bandwidth and hosting options.

Next, there is the personnel aspect.  Simonson, et al. (2012) also bring up several considerations in regard to personnel.   The training will become more learner centered as the instructor takes on a role more similar to a facilitator or coach.  These changes need to be considered and discussed with human resources to ensure there are no labor violations or other concerns which may arise.

As an important aspect of distance learning of any kind, communication and community building must be addressed (Durrington, Berryhill, Swafford, 2006; Simonson, et al., 2012; Swan, 2002).  Without active involvement of a facilitator, the research indicates that communication becomes ineffective in an online situation.

Of primary importance, however, is the need for planning.  Dr. George Piskurich (Laureate Education, n.d.) stresses the importance of planning when converting a face to face course to online.  He recommends the use of storyboards and link charts to ensure the course flows.

In conclusion, planning and being aware of  how the change will affect staffing and resources will  be important when considering a change to distributed learning.  Being aware that it is just not as simple as shoe-horning existing content and practices into a different model will help with ensuring success (Simonson, et al., 2012).

Dron, J., Seidel, C., & Litten, G. (2004). Transactional distance in a blended learning environment. Research in learning technology, 12(2), 163-174.
Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 190-193. Retrieved from
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Developing online courses [Video file]. Retrieved from
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23 - 49.

Thomas, M.J.W. (2002).  Learning within incoherent structures: the space of online discussion forums.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, 351 - 366.

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