After eight weeks of studying the theory, the issues, and the features of developing a distance education course, I can say that this has been one wild ride! My area of expertise is in the classroom, so this has been a field that has taken me out of my comfort zone. However, that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed it, (even as I have been tearing my hair out.) As Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, (2012) state the planning always starts with the learner. I think one of the best lessons I have learned is no matter how well-designed or planned a course is, the learner determines how the course flows by whether or not the his/her learning is progressing, so starting with the learner in mind is particularly important. I believe my learning situation was a good example of Wedemeyer’s Theory of Independent Study, (Simonson, et al., 2012). I had taken responsibility for my learning, but more importantly, the interaction between teacher and students was well designed to break the space-time barrier.
As I attempted to design the orientation course, I struggled as I was just not “getting it”. Our professor carefully explained, provided numerous examples and supportive feedback, but I couldn’t see what I was supposed to even though I had plenty of support. Each week I struggled with assignments, researched online, looked at the samples again and again, but I was still unclear about what I needed to do. It was like looking at one of those pictures where after a minute or so, it becomes a 3-D image. You have to look at it just right and wait until you see the 3-D picture “pop out”. The image just wasn’t popping for me. By week five, I was seriously considering that I was just too dense to continue in a solely asynchronous environment for this. The priority for me wasn’t that I would get a low grade, but rather, I wouldn’t learn what I needed to; when I leave school, the grades aren’t going to matter, whether I learned the theory and skills will. The worst part was I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I was unable to even ask a question. For some reason, after continued feedback from Dr. Paige and looking again at the examples, during week six I could finally see the image. All the pieces fell into place after that.
This anxiety laden experience taught me an invaluable lesson, though. Aside from the “perseverance pays off” insight, the more important lesson is that all the extra support features that get built into a course design are critical; also needed are Moore’s three levels of interaction, student-content, student-teacher, and student-student: I used them all (Chou, 2003). The presence of the instructor is key; the constant feedback and support guided me even when I thought I was walking into a wall. Having the opportunity to interact with my fellow students also was a tremendous support as I didn’t feel isolated; so many of my classmates felt the same way and they also had great ideas for how to proceed. The student-content, student-teacher and student-student interaction proved to be crucial elements in this class, not just theory that designers need to consider.
This week Dr. Paige posted a job description for an instructional designer. He asked if we felt ready to apply for the job. I would love to say I am fully prepared to apply, but that would not be an honest assessment of my skills thus far. Before I started this master’s program, I looked at some ID job openings. I didn’t understand most of the vocabulary and I could say I only had experience with about half the software. Some of the software I had never heard of before. Now, I understand all of the vocabulary, (unless it is specific to a site,) and I recognize the software and have learned to use most of it. So that is real progress. However, in order for me to apply for any ID job, I recognize I still have a ways to go. I need experience. In fact all of the job descriptions I look at, including the one Dr. Paige posted, want designers with at least three years of experience. I would like to begin getting experience in a position where I would be able to learn the ropes. I have much of the theoretical background, and will continue to gain that as I progress through the program, but I won’t be up to speed until I can see how it all fits together in an organizational environment.
As I assess the field of instructional design, its very nature indicates that the practitioner will always have to keep up. This is a developing field; technology continues to evolve and as it does, methods will progress and theory will refine the field. Osborne (2013) predicts mobile computers, hybrid learning, and open learning resources will all influence distance education. Siemens, also sees the influence of mobile devices and how the growing access to multimedia and gaming will impact the tools we use in distance education. He also notes that experts from around the world will be contributing to the practice and theory of distance education.
Looking farther down the road, Bates, (2014) sees the bigger changes on college campuses. He predicts that courses based on three lectures a week over thirteen weeks will disappear, instead courses will be multi-purposed customized to the individual learner’s goals. He sees the learner having more opportunities for courses with a blend of asynchronous and hybrid classes. He states that the future will be about choices. What is crucial about this observation is that as participants in the design of distance education, we will need to be dedicated to advancing what we know. Instructional designers need to be vocal in ensuring that courses are designed with rigor and outcomes that are applicable to the real world. In their discussion of academic fidelity, Gambescia & Paolucci, (2009) caution that institutions need to focus on creating equivalent programs designed with quality and integrity. As instructional designers we need to make sure our voices are heard in that debate as well. Huett, Moller, Forshay, & Coleman, (2008) conclude their three-part series on the evolution of distance education by commenting that professionals need to commit to the “the potential of technology in education and training, no matter what their theoretical or ideological bent, to think outside the box, to collaborate and to advance the common vision” (p. 66). As I continue my education and, with luck, begin my career, I will want to continue learning and developing my skills, and to the best of my abilities, think outside the box.
Bates, T. (2014). 2020 vision. Online Learning and Distance Education Resources. Retrieved from http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/01/12/2020-vision-outlook-for-online-learning-in-2014-and-way-beyond/
Chou, C. (2003). Interactivity and interactive functions in web-based learning systems: a technical framework for designers. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 34(3), 265–279.
Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html
Huett, J., Moller, L., Forshay, W. R., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 52(5), 70–75.
Osborne, C. (2013). Top ten predictions for online learning in 2013. Smart Planet. Retrieved from http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/top-ten-predictions-for-online-learning-in-2013/?tag=content%3Bsiu-container#.UUCUKgTXh5o
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed., pp. 2–31). Boston: Pearson.