From industrial education to transactional distance to Second Life! The world of distance education that we were thrown into has been a fun and stretching learning experience. I have enjoyed it and really never imagined it could be as complex as it is. And yet, I have seen just a small piece of the research, tools, principles, theories and application of all of these to attempt to help learners in a distance setting.
If I were to summarize a few key points and things I want to continue to learn about they would be:
1) What type of content and learners do best in distance education? I think distance learning requires active self-learning, students taking responsibility for the learning and outcomes. You have to do a lot more than in a normal class. I also think that more and more content areas are effectively learned in a distributed setting because of the technology advances. Despite that it seems that it is easier to create distance courses that require less collaboration (e.g. Norm’s accounting class, independent study, and other similar things have existed for quite some time and have done well).
2) Theories. There are quite a few theories out there yet I felt like the researchers constantly said that the framework for distance education research and principles was lacking due to lack of good theories that describe distance education. Some of the main theories that seem to be consistently coming up in the research were transactional distance and types of interaction (Moore and others), communities of practice and communities of inquiry, theories for technology use, conversational theory and others.
3) Practical knowledge. Being a newbie to the program I loved the hands on practical things we learned. They were also very helpful in other settings. Some of them were doing a class at a distance, creating surveys, open coding, seeing the independent study, learning about copyright, line item analysis, using some of the available tools in class (Breeze, SL, Skype, shared docs, blogs, and any mixture of this list to make it work J), and there are probably others that I am forgetting.
I feel like there is a lot to learn in distance education and I see no slowing down in the discipline. Some of the things that still boggle my mind are how to use the right amount and effectively facilitate collaboration, how to help institutions get “on board” and accept distance education as a legit learning medium (and how to reduce low-quality programs so this can happen), how to balance and use both asynchronous and synchronous tools effectively to just name a few.