Reflection: The Future of Distance Education

The future of distance education

A look at the University Council of Jamaica’s (UCJ) website, the local accrediting body, will attest to the growing acceptance of distance learning in Jamaica. There is a total of 16 universities accredited or recognized by the UCJ to provide undergraduate and graduate level programs to Jamaicans (University Council of Jamaica, 2016). Some are in collaboration with established local colleges and universities and yet others, like those offered by Walden, are delivered by the recognized or accredited institution. According to Siemens, increase use and comfort with technology is directly correlated with an acceptance of education at a distance (Laureate Education (Producer), n.d.). With a population of approximately 2.9 million, 2.9 million cell phones and 1.5 million internet users, approximately 50% of Jamaicans are users of information and communication technologies (CIA, 2016). Jamaica is pushing towards the inclusion of technology at the primary and secondary levels (Patterson, 2015), and we already have three local universities offering distance education programs. Also, noteworthy is the fact that the current Prime Minister supports this learning modality (Jamaica Observer, 2011). These factors auger well for a distance learning future in Jamaica. Here I only speak of our local universities and policies; I speak nothing of the hundreds of professionals who have already identified overseas universities offering distance programs. This says to me that our future will include increased use of distance learning programs. This approach is becoming more acceptable to students and employers.

There is a contradictory perspective, however, evidenced by my assignment for this week that demonstrates there are still Jamaicans who thinks the quality and rigor of an online degree is less than its face to face counterpart. Past and successive governments have lauded the importance of ICT in education. These praises are transformed into programs such as the Tablets in Schools projects and other programs planned in primary and secondary schools (Patterson, 2015). The government throwing its support behind ICT and distance learning does not seem to reassure some that there is sufficient rigor to make this option viable. Their lack of confidence in distance learning is perhaps as a result of their inexperience with this option (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015). Simonson, Smaldino, and Zvacek (2015) suggests guiding inexperience distance learners to make them aware of course expectations. Following this train of thinking, I believe local universities, colleges and any institution (local or overseas) planning to enter or continue in the distance learning market in Jamaica should invite prospective students to an open house designed to share information and assuage their concerns.

Contributing to Jamaica’s Distance Education Future

My role in Jamaica’s distance education future began a year ago when I enrolled at Walden University. Admittedly just a first step, but it will pave the way for future contributions. I expect my future roles in this field to be that of instructional designer, instructor, and subject matter expert. As an instructional designer, Simonson et al. (2015) advises that I should “consider all aspects of the instructional environment, following a well-organized procedure that provides guidance to even the novice distance instructor” (p. 128). Simonson et al. propose the use of a systematic approach to design which allows the designer to factor the learner environment, learners, content, teaching strategies and media in the development and design of the learning environment and assets used in learning. However, perhaps my most important contribution is ensuring quality in the courses I designed for distance learning. Sun, Tsai, Finger, Chen and Yeh (2008, as cited in Simonson et al., 2015) identifies course quality as one of the most important factors that influence learners satisfaction with distance learning. It is then through the maintenance of quality that I will best improve the society’s perception of distance learning.

Simonson et al. (2015) identifies two questions an instructional designer or instructor must ask during formative evaluations: “is this approach going to work” and “what can I do to make it better” (p. 140). The first question suggests that the instructional designer’s role does not end at providing content and setting up the learning environment. By asking this question, the instructional designer critically looks at the expected outcomes of the instruction and determine if the material provided will allow users to achieve this outcome. Once the course is complete, the designer and or instructor should revisit the learning event to identify what worked well and what did not. It is through this evaluation process that we now identify “what can I do better” to make the course more successful in the next iteration. At this time, there is an in-depth look at each element of the course: learning resources, the technology used, learning tasks, and teaching strategies. Each is reviewed in this reflective process to determine how it contributed to any problems in the training and what can be done to address the problem. This reflection is crucial to the success of future endeavors, as Simonson et al. (2015) states “because so many different factors affect the interactive learning environment, reflective teaching practices play a vital role in developing effective teaching practices” (p. 140).

Conclusion

Experience with technology does influence the use of distance learning as these very technologies are employed in the learning environment. It is, however, imperative that steps be taken to inform prospective students of the quality and rigor of distance learning programs. Of course, if we tout the quality of distance learning programs to influence prospective users we must maintain that quality through systematic approaches to design and rigorous evaluations.

 

References

CIA. (2016, February 25). The World Factbook. Retrieved from CIA.Org: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/jm.html

Jamaica Observer. (2011, June 15). Holness praises distance learning. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holness-praises-distance-learning_9011651

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). The future of distance education [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.eduhttps://class.waldenu.edu

Patterson, C. (2015, March 4). Gov’t incorporating technology in education. Retrieved from JIS.gov: http://jis.gov.jm/govt-incorporating-technology-education/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.). Information Age Publishing, Inc.

University Council of Jamaica. (2016, February). Accredited Programmes and UCJ-Approved Degrees. Retrieved from UCJ.Org: http://www.ucj.org.jm/sites/default/files/ACCREDITED-PROGRAM-ES-AS-AT-February-2016.pdf

 

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Task Analysis and Instructional Objectives

Planning for learning is an essential part of any teacher’s job. This planning is even more important when planning for online delivery. This stage should consider everything related to the delivery of instruction. That includes the learners, training material, the actual learning environment and the content to be taught. As such the planning phase will have these stages all geared towards identifying the learning
objective: Needs assessment, Learner analysis and Task analysis

Analysis

In this post, I will focus on the task analysis and why it is important.

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Reflections on EDUC 6115-1

It has been eight intense weeks for me. I’ve learned a lot and have a deeper appreciation for learning theories and their role in the process of learning and instruction. I think the biggest surprise over the period was how the new information changed my view of how I learned. When initially asked to diagram my learning network I honestly thought it would be small. As I started to list my connections I realized how extensive my network was and how truly dependent I was on it. I found that my conviction on which theories best explained how I learn was easily swayed once I was exposed to new theories such as connectivism and adult learning theory. I am now certain that no one theory explains how I learn, they all collectively explain the learning process and in some cases seek to build on existing knowledge about learning. Even more surprising was the role that motivation plays for the adult learner.

Schunk, Pintrich, and Meece (2008) defines motivation as “the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained”. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic (within the learner) and extrinsic (external factors). Before starting this course, I erroneously had the view that all I needed was intrinsic motivation. ARCS motivational design process put forward by Keller (1987) provides a systematic approach to incorporate motivation in an online course design. Keller focuses on four areas: Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. “Research has demonstrated that each of these elements promote learner persistence and ultimately, mastery of e-learning content” (Marshall & Wilson, 2013). My rocky road with this module proves Keller right. Initially I was upbeat and eager to learn, as my intrinsic motivation waned I believe the motivation designed in the course took over. When the bulk of work left me feeling like I was about to drown, I didn’t. I found that extra push to complete each assignment. When the final week came and I was presented with ARCS I was completely lost, I was interacting with this for the first time and for the life of me after reading the assigned literature I just did not get it. I spent countless hours researching and reading more on the approach until I could final say “yes, I think I have it now”. I cannot identify one particular thing that kept me going, but the fact that I’m at the eighth week and doing this reflection suggests that I made it through.

My experience has taught me the importance of motivation in the courses I will eventually design. As Marshall and Wilson (2013) stated so eloquently: “learner motivation is an important element of any instructional endeavor”. Ormrod, Schunk, and Gredler (2009) reveals that motivation increases an individual’s energy and activity level; directs an individual toward certain goals; promotes initiation of certain activities and persistence in those activities as well as affects the learning strategies and other cognitive processed an individual brings to bear on a task. The authors further explains that students who are intrinsically motivated, as opposed to extrinsically motivated, perform better in the learning environment. Despite this, they maintain the importance of extrinsic motivation and further explains that a particular motivation can be both instrinsic and extrinsic. There may be cases too where extrinsic motivation results in intrinsic rewards.

This course has further taught me that learning theories, learning styles, educational technology, and motivation have a symbiotic relationship. While each stand independently, they all rely on each other to work in a learning environment. If I consider adaptive learning technologies (educational technology) as an example, they rely on learning theories (constructivism, cognitive learning theory, behaviorism and connectivism), information is usually presented using varying styles (text, graphics, audio, video and music) and motivation (extrinsic and intrinsic rewards) is built into the design to assist learners with mastering the content.

My future as an Instructional Designer will most certainly be shaped by what I’ve learned these past eight weeks. The creation of effective instructions must consider what the learner outcomes are. One must bring to bear on the design the various learning theories and how best to structure the lesson for best retention. I will also include a variety of media and activities to aid the learner with understanding and understanding in a way that is meaningful to them. My design will also incorporate motivational tactics to gain the learner attention and keep them attentive throughout the course, demonstrate course relevance and build their confidence all in an effort to ensure their success.

References
Marshall, J., & Wilson, M. (2013, October). Motivating e-Learners: Application of the ARCS Model to e-Learning for San Diego Zoo Global’s Animal Care Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.jaidpub.org/: http://www.jaidpub.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/JAIDOctober2013MarshallWilson.pdf

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition ed.). New York: Pearson.

Schunk, D., Pintrich, P., & Meece, J. (2008). Motivation in Education: Theory, Research, and Applications. Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall.

Professional Learning Communities

Finding resources on the Internet can be a tedious task, you could spend precious time trying to find the right resource to answer your questions. Continuous learning is the job of every educator and one way to do that today is through learning communities. In this post I will focus on three blogs I’veID Shirt found useful as an Instructional Designer (in training).

  • The Rapid E-Learning Blog (http://blogs.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/) – This is a product from Articulate, the e-learning software and authoring tool which is used by over 48,000 organizations worldwide. I found this resource a few weeks ago when I started investigating a software solution to complete my first project as a Masters’ Student. The blog is hosted by Tom Kuhlmann who has over 20 years’ experience in training. The blog provides practical insight and hands-on tips to creating e-learning courses. Though there is some advertising of Articulate related courses and courses Tom presents, the information provided is for the most part vendor neutral and the content is relevant to the ID professional. Tom posts to this blog weekly and there is an archive with posts from mid-2007 to today.

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