Capturing Definitions for a Sustainable Distance Education Ecosystem through an Online Delphi Study

Capturing Definitions for a Sustainable Distance Education Ecosystem through an Online Delphi Study

M. Banu Gundogan (Middle East Technical University, Turkey), Gulsun Eby (Anadolu University, Turkey) and T. Volkan Yuzer (Anadolu University, Turkey)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6493-7.ch005
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In broadest terms, ecology is the scientific study of interactions among organisms and their environment, and ecosystem defines a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment interacting as a system. At present, both terms are references of many studies including education; various authors and studies investigating distance education with an ecological perspective refer to the ecosystem concept as frameworks for defining the operational components and processes. Among all these contributions, the concept of “waste,” one of the key concerns of sustainability, seems to be vaguely discussed. Having this as a standpoint, an online Delphi study was carried out in a research project at Anadolu University, Turkey, aiming to define a sustainable distance education ecosystem including the explanation of “waste” with reference to ecosystem definitions. The study was processed online and is explained by both presenting the results and discussing the benefits and also difficulties encountered.
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Within an ecological perspective, the ecosystem concept has been associated with education and learning by various authors (Brown, 2000; Richardson, 2002; Jones, 2008). Matching the ecosystem definition which states that the living community and the nonliving environment function together as an ecological system or ecosystem (Odum & Barret, 2005), a learning ecosystem is described as “a collection of overlapping communities of interest (virtual), cross-pollinating with each other, constantly evolving, and largely self-organizing” (Brown, 2000). In a learning ecosystem formal, social, informal and traditional learning intersect and learning “just happens” (Jones, 2008) providing the presence of diverse learning options (Brown, 2000). A learning ecosystem matrix with reference to studying, teaching, projects and exercises quadrants based on instruction delivery and navigation control is also presented (Richardson, 2002). In terms of distance education, the concept of ecology and ecosystems are referred as frameworks for defining the operational components and processes (Zachry, 2000; McCalla, 2004; Frielick, 2004; Chang & Guetl, 2007; Uden & Damiani, 2007; Dong, 2009; Pata, 2011; Reyna, 2011; Nasr, 2011; Johnson, 2012). These frameworks can be grouped as follows:

  • 1.

    The Learning Ecosystem: Encompassing up-to-date information and content,

  • 2.

    The Teaching Ecosystem: Encompassing complex interactions between the learner, interface, instructor and content,

  • 3.

    The Digital Ecosystem: Focusing on the rapid growth in digital technology,

  • 4.

    The Learning Environment Ecosystem: Covering content providers, consultants and infrastructure. Moreover, the future of distance education is mentioned to be feasible only if these ecosystems are well understood and analyzed (Dillon & Hallett, 2001) and the need for developing models that support the development and sustainability of these ecosystems are underlined (Uden & Damiani, 2007; Issa, Issa & Chang 2011).

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