The Evolution of Distance Learning

The Evolution of Distance Learning

Linda D. Grooms (Regent University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch219
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In very simplistic terms, distance learning is just that--learning that occurs at a distance (Rumble & Keegan, 1982; Shale, 1990; Shale & Garrison, 1990) or that which is characterized by a separation in geographical proximity and/or time (Holmberg, 1974, 1977, 1981; Kaye, 1981, 1982, 1988; Keegan, 1980; McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996; Moore, 1973, 1980, 1983, 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Ohler, 1991; Sewart, 1981; Wedemeyer, 1971). In his 1986 theory of transactional distance, Moore (Moore & Kearsley, 1996) defined distance not only in terms of place and time but also in terms of structure and dialogue between the learner and the instructor. In this theory, distance becomes more pedagogical than geographical. As structure increases, so does distance. As dialogue increases, distance declines showing the role that interaction can play in the distance learning environment. Saba (1998) furthered this concept concluding,

the dynamic and systemic study of distance education has made ‘distance’ irrelevant, and has made mediated communication and construction of knowledge the relevant issue …. So the proper question is not whether distance education is comparable to a hypothetical ‘traditional,’ or face-to-face instruction, but if there is enough interaction between the learner and the instructor for the learner to find meaning and develop new knowledge. (p. 5)

To facilitate greater interaction in the geographically and/or organizationally dispersed distance environment, today the convergence or fusion of technologies enables individuals to overcome the barrier of separation, affording institutional and learner opportunity to transcend intra- and inter-organizational boundaries, time, and even culture. By definition, the paradigm of distance learning revolutionizes the traditional environment (Martz & Reddy, 2005); however, even with this change, learning, which involves some manner of interaction with content, instructor, and/or peers, remains at the core of the educational process.

Although imperative in both environments, research shows these three types of interaction to be the hub of the ongoing traditional versus distance argument. Traditionalists often fear that with anything other than face-to-face instruction, interaction somehow will decrease thus making learning less effective, when in reality, numerous studies have revealed no significant difference in the learning outcomes between traditional and distance courses (Russell, 1999). In fact, distance courses have been found to “match conventional on-campus, face-to-face courses in both rigor and quality of outcomes” (Pittman, 1997, p. 42). Despite these findings, critics still abound.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Time-Place Independent: Learning that does not rely on geographical proximity or time.

mLearning: Learning that occurs through the use of mobile technology.

Correspondence Learning: A form of distance learning using dispatched or one-way communication.

Optical Sensory Technology: Technology that provides the ability to track user input within an augmented or virtual reality.

Equivalency: Distance learning that possesses equality with learning experienced in the face-to-face venue.

E-Learning: Learning that occurs electronically.

Time-Place Dependent: Education that transpires in the same location at the same time.

Cloud Computing: Technologies that facilitate the sharing of digital files over the Internet.

Three-Dimensional Virtual Learning: A computer-based simulated environment.

Traditional Study: Face-to-face learning.

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