Comprehensive Distance Learning Design for Adult Education

Comprehensive Distance Learning Design for Adult Education

Kathleen P. King (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch003


Understanding and successfully designing online learning courses are among the greatest needs of faculty in adult and higher education today. An adult learning perspective emphasizes design which has rigorous academic engagement, addresses current and prospective students’ needs, while being feasible to develop (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009; Palloff & Pratt, 2004). This chapter describes rapid changes in society, technology and distance learning which influence both course design and facilitation. Beginning with distance learning, the chapter illustrates the possibilities for teaching and learning through several inexpensive and easy technologies, before progressing to planning, designing and facilitating courses which incorporate them. Drawing upon 13+ years of distance learning research, design and teaching, and extensive continued literature reviews, the chapter has a robust knowledge base and model. The aim is to assist faculty in envisioning, planning, designing and facilitating online classes which best address the many demands they have to satisfy.
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The convenience and flexibility of instruction may compel people to pursue distance learning opportunities; however, there are other motivations and incentives from an educational perspective (Allen & Seaman, 2007). Today, adults 18-72 are using the Internet not only for information, but also entertainment and socializing (Jones & Fox, 2009). The multitude of people engaged in informal learning via Internet searches, audio books, and podcasts highlights the fact that people of all ages seek learning opportunities online when they have a critical need to gain knowledge and skills. (Berg, 2005; Christiansen, Johnson, & Horn, 2008; King & Sanquist, 2009; The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004; Simonson et al., 2009). Nonetheless, traditional educational institutions tend to ignore this fact in the scope and design of distance learning offerings.

Instead, informal distance learning opportunities may be on-demand, highly dynamic, and result in turning the tables on traditional formats. Therefore, people arrive at traditional learning spaces expecting more technology that they can control. Control and flexibility have become major characteristics of continuous information gathering, daily learning and entertainment; therefore they need to be included in distance learning. Fueled by the technological delivery of global information 24 hours day, seven days a week (24/7), users expect to pursue academic studies with the same tools, convenience, and global reach as their work, entertainment, and social engagement. (Allen & Seamen, 2007; Tapscott, & Williams, 2006).

One of the greatest opportunities that arrives with ubiquitous technology is to consider how it may help reframe student-teacher relationships, traditional program study restrictions, and student responsibility, allowing for new models to emerge. When we are able to embrace what technology offers and learners seek, we become ready for an educational revolution. Moreover, if institutions are not able to embrace these opportunities, many educational leaders expect that learners will go outside traditional venues, and schools, colleges and universities will struggle with enrollments and income (Berg, 2002, 2005; Christensen et al., 2008; Simonson et al., 2009).

This chapter’s model of designing distance learning is built upon these critical premises. It provides a valuable introduction to envisioning, planning and designing distance learning courses which will sustain and advance academic integrity. Transforming learning with the ever-expanding capabilities of technology provides a robust environment for academics and learners to grow intellectually, creatively and responsibly.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Video Conference: When people are connected via video and audio to communicate simultaneously. Connections which enable this connection include ISDN lines, Internet, and dedicated IP connections. Since 2006 inexpensive webcams and free videoconferencing software have created a surge of use of the high speed connection Internet for this use. Such video conferencing can be no-cost compared to the pricey per minute costs of dedicated lines. This change affords the ability to use videoconferencing for education, entertainment and meetings and communication among business colleagues and family.

Web 2.0: Development of the World Wide Web to include more Web-based programs, otherwise known as hosted services, collaborative and easier content creation technologies (King, 2009; Simonson et al., 2008). Examples of Web 2.0 technologies include Google ® applications which are run over the Internet rather than needing to be downloaded; social networking sites, such as Linked-In and MySpace; and content creation technologies such as blogs, wikis and podcasts. Controversy regarding the term exists as the original vision and capabilities of the Web included some of these abilities in fundamental ways although they were not widely adopted at the time.

Simulations (Technology Assisted): Examination of a problem or through online, computer based, or another technology representation of the experience and process. For example, pig dissection simulation, or financial planning simulation. Virtual simulations closely resemble firsthand experiences through interaction with many human senses.

Podcast: Audio or video files hosted on the web but served up via a special scripting language (XML) which provides automated and usually free subscription to users. Therefore users can elect to “subscribe” to a podcast and every time they open their program to listen to them (e.g., iTunes ®, MusicMatch ®, Windows Media Player ®, etc.) the latest episodes of the podcasts will download for them without any action on their part. Podcasts may be listed to on a computer or transferred to a mobile listening device such as a MP3 player. There are many educational podcasts available (King & Gura, 2009).

Asynchronous: Asynchronous learning stands for non-simultaneous learning and affords the convenience of learners and teachers being able to log-in, read material, engage in discussions, post assignments, etc, whenever is convenient for their schedule, commitments and time zones. Technology options can extend the possibilities in many directions for both asynchronous learning through for example online discussion boards, video clips, audio clips, podcasts, and file sharing, video conferencing, podcasting, etc.

Intellectual Property: The intangible property right to protect the intellectual work of the person/s who created it (includes patents, trademarks, designs and copyright). A critical and extensive area of institutional concern in distance learning since 2000 (King, 2008; Morrison, 2006).

Synchronous Learning: When teachers and students are engaged in learning at the same time- meeting face to face, online or any other way simultaneously, this is termed synchronous learning. Technology options can extend the possibilities in many directions for synchronous learning, through for example online discussion boards, chat, video conferencing, podcasting, etc.

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