My online wanderings brought me to two interestingly connected “places” yesterday. The first was the homepage of IRRODL (a journal I frequently read, and highly recommend). The second was a set of comments posted to one of my UOIT MEd student’s blog sites. I’ve been debating what these two places mean. And I want to invite the participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G (and anyone else) into that conversation.
First, I read about how IRRODL has updated its name from the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning to the International Journal of Open and Distributed Learning – a change prompted by the evolving landscape of educational technology, and a shift away from the negative, “exclusive” connotations of the term “distance” learning towards the more “inclusive” connotations of “distributed” learning. “Distance” learning implies (rightly or wrongly) that there is are transactional distances imposed upon the learner – it implies that somehow they are being disadvantaged, and that efforts are required to remediate those distances. “Distributed” learning implies that educational technologies are being leveraged to the advantage of the learner. A small change in word choice, with huge implications for educational technology discourse and public perception. A change that echoes my observations in my doctoral dissertation (2015, pp. 14-15) that
As technologies available for the mediation of teaching and learning evolve, the distinctions between traditional face-to-face education, distance education, and mobile learning are beginning to disappear. This trend is described as ubiquitous learning, where learning “anywhere, anytime” is supported through advances in one-to-one computing technologies, including mobile devices (Education-2025, 2013). Wheeler (2014) advised that if educational institutions such as universities are to continue to meet the needs of changing learner demographics, they should place more emphasis on the use of technology to facilitate blended and distributed approaches to teaching and learning… Ally (2014) also noted that teachers need to be better prepared to integrate new technologies into teaching and learning practices.
Second, I read conversations in comments on a student blog site about the limits of distributed learning (I’ve chosen to follow my colleagues at IRRODL and adopt that term). James Elsdon remarked on Kenneth Van Dewark’s blog that there are some professional training areas where “online education [can be] difficult to carry out effectively.” He noted how some professions (such as law) may even impose bans on accreditation of online training programs. James also remarked that STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are difficult to deliver through online avenues. What I’d like for participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G to consider it whether or not these limitations to the effective scope of distributed learning or real, or just perceptions. Having spent 10 years in the Middle East, I saw that these perceptions were widely held. But they were misinformed perceptions. They were based on beliefs that:
- “distance” learning meant no meaningful learning activity (just readings packages and essays);
- it was easy for learners to cheat, and difficult to ascertain the veracity of a graduate’s credentials; and
- that online learning was wholly inferior to, and a poor substitute for face-to-face training.
I even heard anecdotal reports that some major post-secondary institutions in the region refused to acknowledge any credentials (for faculty) that were awarded by (even reputable, government regulated and independently accredited) online institutions. But over the course of 10 years I watched as those perceptions changed. I began to see institutions and government ministries welcome online credentials, and start looking to them as viable training alternatives in their increasingly knowledge-based economies. I’ve seen the volume of literature on investigations into the efficacy (and perceptions) of distributed learning increase dramatically in recent years.
I’m still wondering about comments that law societies oppose online learning because they feel that “the ‘Socratic methods of teaching and learning’… cannot be achieved through the delivery of online classes.” Do traditional lecture halls also impose transactional distances upon learners (because they are historically rooted in passive reception of content transmitted by an expert)? Do modern educational technologies empower learners by facilitating (not guaranteeing) increased Socratic engagement? Does the assertion that a particular field cannot be studied through distributed methods come from sound educational theory and practice? Or does it come from misperception and fear of the unknown or, worse, elitist protectionism?
I’m also still wondering about comments about STEM degrees and medical training. In particular, I’m curious what my students think about the perception that some areas of study, such as education, are better suited to distributed learning. Do educators not also deal with ‘real people?’ Are we not also required to interact with (even if mediated via technology) learners? And do our professional actions not also have profound consequences? Yes – there are some things that require one-on-one guidance during training and credentialing, simply because they involve real and immediate danger. But, are educational technologies evolving to the point that such danger can be mitigated, and one-on-one guidance effectively distributed? Look at the example of using Google Cardboard and virtual reality (VR) to figure out, in advance, how best to approach a unique and difficult surgical procedure. What about the possibilities of using Google Glass (or other augmented reality (AR)) platforms to establish a remote expert presence?
My task now for participants in #EDUC5101G and #EDUC5103G is this – Join this conversation. Respond to these observations, musings, and concerns. #EDUC5101G students should consider this a ‘challenge’ for their Week 2 blog posts:
- What does the change in discourse from “distance” learning to open and “distributed” learning mean?
- Are some areas better suited to distributed learning than others?
- Are there examples (in Canada, or internationally) of successful use of distributed teaching and learning methods to facilitate more challenging (i.e. Law, Medicine, STEM) subject areas?
- What technologies and methods are emerging that could break down barriers that might still exist to distributed learning in some subject areas?
I’m looking forward to seeing where this conversation takes us.
Ally, M. & Prieto-Blázquez, J. (2014). What is the future of mobile learning in education? Mobile Learning Applications in Higher Education [Special Section]. Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), 11(1), 142-151. doi http://doi.dx.org/10.7238/rusc.v11i1.2033
Education-2025 (2013, November 26). Ubiquitous learning [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://education-2025.wikispaces.com/Ubiquitous+Learning
Elsdon, J. (2016, January 19). Untitled comment. Digital Medical Education [Web log]. Available from http://virtualer.org/blog/index.php?post/2016/01/17/About-the-author#post-comments
IRRODL (2016). The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Available from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl
McGreal, R. and Conrad, D. (2016, January 1). Name change of IRRODL journal. Available from http://www.irrodl.org/home/announcements/irrodlnamechange.pdf
Power, R. (2015). A framework for promoting teacher self-efficacy with mobile reusable learning objects (Doctoral dissertation, Athabasca University). Available from http://hdl.handle.net/10791/63
Power, R. (2016). Student blogs. EDUC 5101 G: Digital Tools for Knowledge Construction. Available from http://educ5101g.weebly.com/student-blogs.html
Wheeler, S. (2014, February 7). The survival of higher education (1): Changing roles [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-survival-of-higher-education-1.html#!/2014/02/the-survival-of-higher-education-1.html