At some point during the past 12 years I have become a distance learning enthusiast. It is true that I studied by distance learning while living in Germany, when my poor grasp of the local language procluded me from studying at a local university. It is also true that I studied by distance learning while trying to juggle a demanding managerial role and a new baby – the flexibility allowed me to study at odd hours and in odd places. (It is amazing how much you can learn during a crowded one-hour train commute when armed with a highlighter pen in one pocket and post-it notes in another while reading a text book precariously balanced on your right knee and writing notes in a notepad precariously balanced on the left knee.) However, it is also true to say that I wasn’t enthusiastic when I had an assignment due or an exam looming.
My enthusiasm has come from working in distance learning and watching how it has evolved with the rise of the World Wide Web and the Internet. It has transformed at such a rapid rate and consequently millions of people around the world who might not otherwise have been able to benefit from education because of work commitments, carer commitments, disability, financial hardship, geographical location and so on, have been able to engage in learning out of personal interest, for continuing professional development, or to obtain undergraduate or postgraduate education. Distance learning makes education ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’ – a principle that sits well with me. I have been priviledged to attend graduation ceremonies and hear story after story of how distance learning has changed someone’s life for the better. It opens people’s minds, creates opportunities and helps earn promotions – ultimately it is life changing. It is rewarding to play a small role in this.
Although this rapid development has benefitted many, the downside is that the quality of distance learning is very varied as many new education organisations have emerged to ‘make a buck’. Universities that have engaged in quality face-to-face teaching for centuries are slow to respond to the rise of distance learning and cautious about the impact it might have on their traditional infrastructure. Although those of us who work with quality distance learning know that distance learning can be at least equal to face-to-face learning, the perception of distance learning remains varied, to the point that some graduates do not wish their degrees to say that their course was delivered via a distance in case an employer sees it as holding less value. These are just some of the challenges that those of us who work in distance learning must address.
There is a growing array of literature about distance learning available, however few have the time to wade through it all. I have created this blog to bring issues raised in the distance learning literature to the attention of distance learning enthusiasts like myself. I hope it will prompt thought, discussion and ultimately benefit distance learning, the students who undertake it and the educationalists who create and teach it.
Your comments and thoughts are always welcome.