Distance learning had its start long before the formation of the Internet. Tracey and Richey (2005) note an example of distance learning taking place in the 1800s via the use of postal service. During the 1990s, a stamp-sized video was utilized to communicate for schools (Laureate Education, 2010). The Internet was accessible through a 56k modem. Now, most locations around developed areas of the world have connections in the megabits range. Technology advances will occur and the delivery media will also change. Currently, social media tools such as Facebook has reached across multiple generations and has made communication over the Internet appear acceptable to many. Thompson (2011) speculates that mobile devices would be the primary means of people connecting to the Internet, and the TV, Internet and Phone would mess into one supper communication tool.
With the Internet being readily available, more people will start choosing distance learning over traditional courses that require face-to-face communications. Lohr (2009) mentions a report done by SRI International for the Department of Education that states, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” (paragraph 1). Lohr (2009) posits that online education has evolved from electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses because of the arrival of web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools. As more students are taking online courses, distance learning will become more common and acceptable to employers and the general public as a whole.
The easy accessibility and flexibility of distance learning allow people to meet their educational needs as well as learn in a relaxed, meaningful and practical way. As more and more people join the working population, they will not have to worry about going to school for higher education.
Moreover, international students can also join courses in different universities and colleges without spending on travel or the costs of staying in a dorm. The Internet links them to a college located in another part of the world with classmates scattered throughout the globe. As a result, international distance learning will also gain in popularity due to its affordability, effectiveness and lack of cultural barriers.
The role of instructional designers is definitely important in improving the societal perceptions of distance learning. The outdated correspondences by mail and lethargic use of media for communication have to be done away with. Interactions have to be deliberate. Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2009) notes that one of the most powerful techniques available for distance education courses is discussion. The physical and psychological gap that occurs in online courses can be bridged when students build interactive relationships among themselves and the instructor (Durrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006). Above all, the technology chosen has to match the needs of the student.
Instructional designers can garner positive acceptance of distance learning on campuses by having the instructors also play the role of subject-matter experts. Students can have a pleasant online experience by having access to technical help and feeling welcomed into a community.
Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege.
Lohr, S. (2009). Study finds that online education beats the classroom. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
Thompson, M. (2011). What wil the Internet be like in 2025?. Stay on Search. Retrieved from http://www.stayonsearch.com/what-will-the-internet-be-like-in-2025
Tracey, M., & Richey, R. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17–21.