Five Questions about the Future of Distance Education

 As a Star Trek and science fiction fan, I am somewhat disappointed that we lag behind in the predicted timeline for education. That is, we may have “communicators” and voice-activated computers, but we just don’t seem to have the social maturity that Gene Roddenberry envisioned for us so many years ago in his Star Trek world. In his world, the techno-gadgets were merely a byproduct of what we had become as a species and our ability to look beyond ourselves. Thus, overall, I don’t expect to see much change in the next fifteen years in the field of distance education. We’re just not ready. We have more growing up to do.  

Question: How do you envision the distance education field evolving in the next 15 years?

While distance education may not change much, I do see that distance learning will most likely  make a change. For example, Moller, Robison, and Huett (2012) assert that the “next  generation of distance education will be characterized by evaluation practices that value  higher level cognitive processing and real-world problem-solving” (p. 18). The chatter online  (via edu-mags, discussion forums, blogs, etc.) on this topic of project-based learning and  authentic learning and global citizenship definitely point in this direction. However, unless  designers and instructors ensure that the necessary soft skills and emotional intelligence are also part of the learning experience, then the effort may fall short.

 Question: What technologies do you envision being used in the future?

One of my favorite technologies is the use of holographs, and I was pleased to see that Moore and Kearsley (2012) included it as a predicted technological development (p. 278). Further, since this technology does exist, I can imagine that distance learners may one day have the opportunity to “sit in” a discussion with their instructor. The instructor could also readily use body language and other instruments to explain difficult concepts. We won’t make it to a holodeck just yet, but holographs will come close.

Question: What paradigm shifts do you predict for the future of instructional design and for teaching in distance education?

I predict that connectivism becomes more and more prevalent in post-secondary. Siemens (2005) notes that this model entails the kind of learning that is not individualistic (Conclusion section). Rather, it requires a depth of collaboration between learner to interface and learner to learner. Soon, the ability to see connections between seemingly disparate ideas will be a necessary skill (Connectivism section). However, the secondary learners moving into post- secondary work of this nature will be woefully ill-prepared for this shift if the current trend of test-taking continues. They will be creative-immigrants, much like so many older individuals (now) are digital-immigrants. It takes me a little longer to “get” something, but I do, eventually.

Question:  Will all learning be online learning?

I don’t think that all learning will be or should be online, particularly for younger children, largely due to their need for tactile learning. Although Moore and Kearsley (2012) do predict tactile sensors, actually “being” somewhere is far different from virtually visiting it. For example, I had seen and studied Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for many years. However, until I stood at the foot of that stage, I hadn’t truly experienced it. My students and I (we were travelling in a group) actually got a little misty! There is a quality to reality that cannot be replaced by anything digital.

Questions: What strategies can you consider for influencing processes for high-quality distance education opportunities?

The best means by which students can be afforded high-quality distance education opportunities is for citizens to engage lawmakers, lobbyists, policy-makers, and government officials in a discussion about distance education. We should make it a platform that is just as important as other platforms in an election. Where a candidate stands on distance education will be very telling. For example, Moore and Kearsley (2012) note that “most states are investing in statewide virtual delivery systems” (p. 196), but little else is known about these efforts or their impact on students, faculty, or funding. Who we vote into the offices of the states makes a huge difference, and voting in individuals who are “traditionalists” will stall any progress forward in distance education.

All speculations, of course. However, we may want to heed some Vulcan wisdom as we take our next steps forward in distance learning:




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