Distance learning and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) are both ancient, yet both are new. Distance learning is now associated with online learning using digital technologies, but it goes back to learning by rudimentary means of correspondence between someone with something to teach and those with a desire or need to learn. Oral stories and traditions preserved and passed on the teaching of individuals and cultures. With the development of writing, epistles, letters, scrolls, then books became the favored medium. In the late modern age, correspondence courses used overland mail delivery for those exchanges, but that was replaced with audio (telephone, audio tapes) and video (television, video tapes) means. The common thread for all those centuries of such distance learning is that the process tended to see learning as transmission of information and knowledge from a knower to relatively passive receivers (students).
Distance learning is learning removed from the physical presence of the teacher and, usually, other students. Thus, distance learning today is done from computer stations or home computers. As more of the world is connected to the Internet and has email access, the potential for online distance learning increases. But what is the quality of such distance learning?
That is a question that has been compared to the parallel question, “what is the quality of classroom or face-to-face learning?” Assumptions have abounded: that classroom teaching is necessarily better because of the human contact factor; that teaching via digital technologies is better because of all the multimedia ways subjects can be presented. Many studies (but not all) have settled on the view that between both ways of teaching and learning, there is no significant difference given that technologies may be used in various ways and effectiveness (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006; Russell, 2001; Schulman & Sims, 1999).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Correspondence Course: Former term for distance learning as developed in the late 19th century and initially conducted via postal mail, later by email, telephone, FAX, etc.
Online Learning: A learning process experienced via the Internet.
Virtual: Simulated, online learning environment as opposed to physical, proximate environments.
Andragogy: Theory of adult learning and teaching adult learners.
Pedagogy: Theory of teaching and learning, originally referring to the learning of children but usually generalized for all academic learning.
Asynchronous Learning: A learning context not limited by the teaching-learning process occurring at a delineated time; learners can participate at their convenience using various technologies.
E-Learning: Learning within a digital environment (Internet) that can be synchronous or asynchronous.
SoTL: An inquiry-led, research-based investigation of student learning outcomes that is made public, open for critique, and that builds up a body of knowledge.
Face-to-Face: Traditional classroom setting for teaching and learning where teacher and students are at the same location at the same time.
Synchronous Learning: A learning context process occurring in real-time that could be either in traditional classroom or in simultaneous distance learning.