Evolution of Distance Learning


Take a journey with me to a time where distance learning was nothing more than a one-sided communicative tool but has now evolved to a world-wide interactive phenomenon. And whether you know it as distance learning, distance education, e-learning or online education the principles remain the same. It is a method in which teacher and students do not meet in a traditional classroom during instruction but use various technologies to facilitate student-teacher and student-student communication. (Simonson & Berg, n.d.)  Even with humble beginnings distance learning has vastly changed the way we communicate and learn. With each new technological advance came new platforms to share and store information. From radio and television broadcasts which didn’t allow for student-teacher or student-student communication to now video conferencing, virtual classrooms, and mobile devices that allow interactions to and from vast regions around the world. The journey of emerging technologies coupled with the growing demands by industry, government, and military have been pushed distance learning to new levels of social, economic, and collaborative means. Providing tools that “bridge intellectual, cultural, and social differences between students.” (Simonson & Berg, n.d.)

“The connection of learners, teachers, and instructional resources become less dependent of physical proximity and communication systems become more sophisticated and widely available.” (Simonson & Berg, n.d.) As a student I have been fortunate enough to see these changes in online learning. Being a student in a small and private high school often providing certain courses proved to be challenging as they needed to find teachers with the right credentials and similar values who were willing to teach at the low end of the paying scale. When that was not possible they began looking for alternatives.

And thus, Video Education was introduced. Due to how long it was I cannot remember the name of the program. However, looking back I can recall that the materials included a telephone capable of calling in and interactive buttons to answer multiple choice questions. While the attempt of interaction was there it was still incomplete and very one sided. The chances of being picked when calling in where miniscule and any question we had about the lesson fell on deaf ears. But on the positive it did make the students collaborate in order to figure it out, but the downfall was that we may all interpret the information in a different manner. And as a result, this alternative was quickly removed as it did not “bridge the gap between that bridge intellectual, cultural, and social differences between students.” (Simonson & Berg, n.d.) Luckily this was not my only interaction with distance learning. It was only during my college years that I was able to fully embrace what online education had to offer. With a new fully online platform I was able to complete assignments, interact with peers and teachers, and complete quizzes or examinations. Through incorporated tools such as digital reading materials, e-mail, discussion forums, and test-taking functionality. My college online experience was vastly different from my high school years due to the interaction component. Interaction and the ability to work where and when I choose where other components that aided in my success.

The adoption of theories, leadership, and direction are essential tools for distance learning. Meeting the needs of both learners and institutions to provide a broad range of educational purposes and experiences. (Garrison, 2000) The journey of distance learning has been an amazing one. Moving beyond the primitive one-sided broadcast model to a “social, collaborative, personalized and interactive experience that generates mutually reinforcing success.” (as cited in Admin, 2014)

As the future of education is ever changing and evolving my hopes for online education is as Shearer states in his article Four Evolving Trends that May Shape the Future of Distance Education, “ultimately what we must stay focused on is that this is about learning; it is about changing our mental model and helping learners challenge existing ideas and expand their views of the disciplines and the world, and it is about access and success. The regulations, technologies and the rest are in support of these goals.” (Shearer, 2015)

Huesca MindMap




Admin. (2014). The Evolution of Distance Learning. Florida National University. Retrieved from https://www.fnu.edu/evolution-distance-learning/

Garrison, R. (2000). Theoretical Challenges for Distance Education in the 21st Century: A Shift from Structural to Transactional Issues. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 1(1), 1-17.

Shearer, R. (2015, January 12). Four Evolving Trends that May Shape the Future of Distance Education. The EvoLLLution. Retrieved from https://evolllution.com/opinions/evolving-trends-shape-future-distance-education/

Simonson, M., & Berg, G. A. (n.d.). Distance Learning. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/distance-learning

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