Defining Distance Learning

What is the definition of distance learning? If you would have asked me this question before Monday, I would have probably said it was as simple as taking a class online. The only requirements for my definition are a learner, a computer, and an internet connection.  This definition of distance learning is based on my experience with taking a couple of professional development courses through the University of Georgia’s Center for Continuing Education, where I wanted to learn about project management and Adobe Acrobat, and where I found someplace where I could take classes online. Both classes had weekly lessons, where I had to post my responses to the discussion topic of the week, assignments that I needed to submit, and I received feedback from the instructor.

On Monday, I started my next class in my master’s program, and after just one week, I can see that once again, I am going to have to admit that I did not know what I did not know. My new class is called Distance Learning, and the focus of this week’s resources was on defining and giving a history of distance learning. As you can tell by my admission, there is a lot more to it then how I had previously defined it. The authors of our course text state that there are four components to the definition of distance learning, and “if one or more are missing, then the event is something different, if only slightly, than distance education” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 34). The four components are: institutionally based, separation of teacher and student, interactive telecommunications, and sharing of data, voice, and video (Simonson, et. al., 2012, Figure 2-1, p. 33). As you can see from my pre-class definition, I did not give any thought to the institutionally based component, even though it was part of my experience (the courses were through UGA), and you could say I was pretty close in defining distance education, but again, I only scratched the surface.

In reading the details of each component, I found that distance learning has been around since the 1830’s, when a correspondence course on composition was offered in Sweden (Simonson, et. al., p. 37), and that the term telecommunications is “not limited to only electronic media” (Simonson, et. al., p. 34), but it can include “the postal system, as in correspondence study, and other nonelectronic methods for communication” (Simonson, et. al., p. 34).   Here I thought that in completing my master’s program online, I was part of something innovative. However, the only really innovative part may be that we are using Web 2.0 resources and the latest telecommunication technology.

After a week of class, did my definition of distance learning change? Absolutely. I especially like how Dr. Simonson, in the video Distance Education: The next generation, defined distance learning. He stated that “distance education can be defined as formal education in which the learning group (teacher, students, resources) are separated by geography and, sometimes, time” (Laureate Education, n.d.), and “where technologies, instructional media, communication technologies are used to link the resources, the teacher, and the learner” (Laureate Education, n.d.).

As I was writing this blog post on Friday morning, I had the opportunity to apply Dr. Simonson’s definition of distance learning. Due to weather conditions, we had to cancel orientation sessions for our new employees a couple of weeks ago, but rescheduled them for Friday. One of my colleagues was scheduled to present on the topic of patient and family education in our healthcare system, but called in sick. I am usually her backup, but it was my day off. The facilitator for the orientation session is still fairly new to our department, so I offered to present, but because of a scheduling conflict, I would need to present from home. I was able to utilize our WebEx account to deliver the content to the students, who were in a classroom about 35 miles away from me. We did have a couple of minor technical issues, but overall, the feedback from the participants was positive.

I am looking forward to fully understanding distance learning during the next 8 weeks. So far, I have come to understand that it’s not about the technology, as I first had thought. Technology is just one of the telecommunication methods. Yes, technology does provide new ways for the teachers and students to share resources, as Dr. Simonson explained (Laureate Education, n.d.), and I think that we will continue to pursue advances in technology as the main telecommunications method, as well as to find ways to utilize platforms already available. For example, adding an instant messaging application such as Lync or Jabber to Blackboard would allow students to see which one of their colleagues are currently online, and provide the ability to ask a question, get clarification, or simply just chat. I also see the possibility of having a blended program, where the student can choose to attend class in person in a classroom (synchronous), be part of the classroom group, but also attend via WebEx (synchronous), or complete the course using an asynchronous method.

Click on the image to enlarge

Distance Learning Mindmap

Distance Learning Mindmap



Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video file]. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.


Next up – Research

The two week break from school for the holidays was much appreciated, but it’s time to get back to class. My next course is on research – a topic that I’m not very comfortable with. I think this is because I do not have fond memories from the research class I had to take in nursing school – even after 20 + years, I can tell you that it was from 6 – 8 pm on Wednesday nights, and the name of the instructor, but I cannot recall a single thing I learned in the class. The instructor for my class now says that this class is nothing like the one I took as an undergrad, and I hope that she is right. Research is one area professionally that I need to develop. I do research all of the time, both for work and for personal reasons, but I need to learn how to really understand the field of research. This is going to be a challenge for me, but I need it.

Using MS Word 2013 Blog Template

I usually draft my blog posts in MS Word, then cut and paste to my blog, which most of the time causes me formatting headaches. While doing some research for my current class, I came across a great way to post directly from word to my blog without the cut and paste headaches. MS Word 2013 has a blog template that, after a quick set up, allows me to draft my post in word, then publish directly to my blog. In fact, this is how I posted this blog today. If you are interested in learning more, check out my website for the screen cast I made on how to use the blog template. Cheers!

End of course reflection

I am a nurse, and in nursing school I learned what to teach, but never how to teach.  Once I became a nurse educator, I participated in various team building events, which, at times, included taking personality and learning style tests, but the focus of those tests were on me, not on others. It was not until about 5 years ago that I was formally introduced to learning theories.  My colleagues and I were tasked to build a series of classes for the educators in our system, which included topics on adult learning, instructional design, evaluation methods, and teaching techniques. It was in preparation for those classes that I learned about Kolb and Adult Learning Theory, and instructional design.  This course has now introduced me to learning theories beyond Kolb’s, and in doing so, to various ways of understanding how people learn. Through the resources and discussions with my class colleagues, I now realize that everyone learns differently, but that instructional designers need to understand the various ways people learn, in order to build effective, engaging, and meaningful courses. The Learning Theory Matrix may have been just an assignment for the course, but for me it will be an invaluable tool as I continue my course work.  Another valuable learning moment for me was the understanding of the difference between a learning theory, learning style, and learning strategy.

In the course of learning about how people learn, and the different learning preferences, I found that I was able to further understand my own learning process. I have always been able to verbalize how I like to learn, and what techniques work best for me, but I never made the connection between theory and practice.  I had never heard of connectivism before this course, and my first thought was that it sounded like a flavor-of-the week type theory, but as I completed my mind map, I came to realize that my learning is deeply rooted in networks.

As for the connection between learning theories, learning styles, educational technology, and motivation, I have learned that motivation, and more specifically, how “educators can manage learning environments to stimulate and sustain motivation” (Keller, 1999, p.47), especially in an online environment, is key. Instructional designers can design a course where they use their knowledge of learning theories, styles, strategies, and the latest technology to deliver the course, but if they have not used Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design, then the course could still fail to motivate the learner.

This course has provided me with an understanding of how to design effective and engaging courses from the perspective of learning theories and instruction.  I will add what I have learned here to my instructional design tool box, which already contains the tools I learned in my previous course, Organizations, Innovations, and Change. I have always found it very frustrating that most people outside the nursing education world think that classes just happen; they do not understand all of the behind-the-scenes components that are required to create and present a class.  It appears that I will now add a new frustration – people that think that one just puts a course together, and have no understanding of what the instructional designer has to consider before the end product is ever delivered.





Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (78).

Fitting the Pieces Together

I am entering the final week of my Learning Theories and Instruction course, and one of my assignments for this week was to revisit my class discussion post from the first week of class, which asked me to reflect on how I learn best, based on the learning theories we had explored in week 1 of class, and then consider the following questions:

  • Now that you have a deeper understanding of the different learning theories and learning styles, how has your view on how you learn changed?
  • What have you learned about the various learning theories and learning styles over the past weeks that can further explain your own personal learning preferences?
  • What role does technology play in your learning (i.e., as a way to search for information, to record information, to create, etc.)?

As I read through my week 1 post, I can tell you that my knowledge and comprehension of the different learning theories was minimal at the time of my post, and one of the theories, connectivism, I had never even heard of before. If I had to answer today how, based on the different learning theories and styles we have discussed throughout my course, I learn most effectively, my answer is quite different than from week 1.  From the assigned class resources, discussions posts, interactions with my colleagues, blogs, and various other resources I have used to understand the various learning theories, and how they are applicable to instructional design, I can now say that all of the theories are applicable at some point in my learning.  As I thought about this answer, I kept thinking about the situational leadership and situational self-leaderships courses I have taken, where we are taught to manage others (or self) related only to the task at hand, not the person as a whole. I think the same goes for learning theories, styles and instructional design; what are we trying to accomplish with a specific learning activity, and based on that answer, what theory or theories I can best use as a base to build the course.

As for my learning preferences, I would still answer the same way I did in week 1, where I stated that I prefer to search out answers on my own, but I now can tell you that this not only has elements of constructivist theory, where learning occurs from “creating meaning from experience” (Ertmer and Newby, 1993, p. 62), but also from connectivism, where I am using networks of people and technology, and adult learning theory, because the problem I am trying to solve is relevant to me, and I am actively seeking out and participating in the learning process (self-directed).

I have a 14 year-old, who has never had to physically go to a public library, or open up a hard-copy encyclopedia, in order to research anything, because she is, according to Mark Prensky, a digital native (Timeline of the history of learning, n.d.). She has been raised with technology, and has online resources at her fingertips on her iPhone and iPad, whether she is at home or at school. Those of us who did not grow up with Google, or the vast resources the web has to offer, may joke about our kids having it easy, but I have to say that I would also not take the time to seek out information and learn without using technology.  I probably would not be enrolled in a Masters program, or know half the tid-bits of knowledge I have acquired over the last 5 years, if I did not have access to Google (and other web browsers), blogs, online newspapers and journals, You Tube, and various other technologies.  




Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspectivePerformance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.

 Timeline of the History of Learning (n.d.). Retrieved from

Reflections on Connectivism

The timing for this assignment is quite interesting. I am currently on a flight, cruising at 30,000 feet, heading to Milwaukee from Atlanta, to attend my niece’s high school graduation.  Since I have finished leafing through the Sky Mall catalog, I decided to use the time to draft this week’s blog on my iPad, where I have this week’s reading assignments downloaded into iBooks, and Pocket, an app that allows me to save web articles and read them offline. I will also use my iPad over the next couple of days to check personal email, social network sites, and keep up with current events. So why is the timing of this assignment interesting? Well, this week’s assignment is on connectivism, George Siemens’ theory on learning “that integrates technology, social networks, and information” (Laureate Education, n.d.).

Siemens (as cited in Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008), defines connectivism as the following: “connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired and the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. Also critical is the ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday”.

Here are my reflections upon the questions for this week’s assignment.

How has your network changed the way you learn?
I never gave much thought to the idea of networks before reading about them as they relate to connectivism; I just know where to go and find my resources. I use search engines, such as Google, all the time, at home and at work, to find out information. From the search results I can dig deeper if I want or need to. The latest addition to my network, school, has taken my learning in a whole new direction.  The components of the school network provide me with the ability to interact with my classmates, search scholarly databases, watch videos by subject matter experts, and learn new technical resources and techniques, such as blogging.

Which digital tools best facilitate learning for you?
This weekend, my iPad has come in very handy; I have used it to draft my assignment, but it also has my class resources on it, which beats having to lug textbooks around. I have used YouTube as a learning tool; they have great tutorials on how to do most anything.  Tom Kuhlmann, on his Rapid eLearning blog, also has great tutorials that I have used to learn new techniques.

How do you gain new knowledge when you have questions?
I have always been very self-sufficient when it comes to finding out new information. Usually I will go to the resource I know will get me on the right track, be it a person whom I know is knowledgeable on the subject, or an online resource such as Google.

In what ways does your personal learning network support or refute the central tenets of connectivism?

According to Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman (2008), three of the principles of connectivism are: “learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions; learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources; learning may reside in non-human appliances”.

Based on my learning network map, and my use of technology, my personal learning network supports those three principles.
I also agree with another principle that “nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning” (Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman, 2008).  Learning is just not going to happen through osmosis; you have to find your connections, figure out how they will help you learn, and keep up with them.



Davis, C, Edmunds, E, & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In Orey (Ed.), Emerging perpectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 06/05/2014, from http://projects.coe.uga/eptll/

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Connectivism [Video file]. Retrieved from