Analyzing Scope Creep

After considering my lived experiences, I realized that most of my life has been affected by scope creep.  As proof of this, consider the number of degrees I have pursued in education, the variety of positions I have held, and my five children and 10 exchange students.  Scope creep does not have to be negative in and of itself; it is the issues associated with the creep that are of concern.

I was tasked to act as the SME during a revision of an online biostatistics course I was teaching at a small university.  I was paired with an instructional designer and assumed I would produce content in response to the IDs plan and design.  I was paid a small sum of money and given 2 months to complete the project.  The first issue that affected my time commitment to the project was associated with the assigned ID.  The ID was neither trained nor experienced in course design. She did not know anything about biostatistics or the challenges of creating a graduate level math course for online use.  I had to become the ID as well as the SME.  As there was also no assigned PM, the timeline was one agreed to by the ID and me, prior to my understanding that I was to produce everything on my own.  The ID’s sole role was managing the timeline by sending me frequent emails asking about progress and presenting the finished project to the technicians who would enter it into the LMS.

The issues with this course revision included much more than the demand on my time.  Scope creep, though I did not recognize it as such as the time, became a significant threat to the project’s success.  Without a clear design, I was not sure what was required of me.  Though I had been aware of the original courses’ issues, I was not fully aware of what the program director expected of the revised course.  As I worked on the revision, my scope of work kept increasing.  All of the discussion questions required revision, as did all the assignments.  I had to add some quizzes, additional topics, a new final exam, and new content material; what had been scheduled as a relatively minor revision became the creation of a new course.  I was able to convince the program director that the project was a major revision and get a little more money, but I was given no additional time.  The ID sent emails to me daily asking about my progress but providing no direction or assistance.  The situation grew direr when the company for which the ID worked changed the rules and required me to submit detailed forms with the product.  My appeal to skip this was not granted, so an extra hour or so per week was added to my responsibilities.

Finally, I contributed to the scope creep but adding additional materials, including videos that I created to the SOP.  I felt the additional materials were needed to provide the students with the best possible learning experience.  Given my history of scope creep in my personal life, this was not surprising, but in this instance, my scope creep had serious consequences.  The result of this consequence was delays in the completion of the course, which reduced the time available for evaluation, a work week of 50+ hours for 6 weeks (I had other work responsibilities as well), and an hourly rate of compensation between $5 and $10. These were in addition to mounting frustrations and stress.  The most egregious consequence, however, was the lack of time to evaluate the course before implementation. Having participated as a student in new courses that have many mistakes, I know the frustrations minor mistakes can cause.  Those frustrations extended beyond the students to me as I had to spend weeks after implementation finding and correcting mistakes for which I was and was not responsible.

The question is how this scope creep and its consequences could have been prevented.  While not all of the issues were avoidable, there are several things a PM and properly trained ID could have done to mitigate the risks of scope creep. Here is a partial list of them:

  • PM (there was not one assigned):
    • Feasibility study
    • SOP
    • Schedule
    • Risk assessments
    • Communication plan
    • Project maintenance
    • Evaluation prior to implementation
  • Trained ID:
    • Acted as the PM in the absence of one being assigned to the project
    • Provided a clear design prior to course development
    • Worked with the ID to create content to translate the design into an effective course
    • Created materials with the advice of the SME
    • Communicated with all the stakeholders

In the absence of a PM and a trained ID, it fell to me to control the flow and scope of the project.  I was a professor with a background in biostatistics and epidemiology and no formal training in education or instructional design.  With what I know now I could have better managed the project by completing the steps listed under the role of PM.

For those curious about the final product, here is what happened nest.  I taught the revised and evaluated course successfully for 2 terms.  When I was asked to teach it again, I was told it had been revised again by an instructor with one year of experience teaching online and no previous experience in course design.  I decided to teach it and see what had been done to my work product.  I began the course as objectively as possible, but soon discovered that the newly revised course was a disaster.  The assignments had been changed from ones requiring interpretation (the main objective of the course) to ones that required students to fill in cells in given excel formulas and report the results numerically.  This greatly reduced the workload for the instructors and students, but did not meet stated objectives or industry standards. The final exam was altered to place greater emphasis on writing per APA6 requirements, then on providing the correct interpretation of published material. After one term teaching that course, I resigned as an adjunct to that university.

Communicating Effectively

We communicate with more than just words.  Dr. Stolovitch suggested that spirit, attitude, tonality, and body language can affect the interpretation of our words (Laureate Education, n.d.). The same message communicated by email, phone, or in person, can be interpreted differently.  In the absence of cues provided through voice tonality and body language, the interpreter must fill in the gaps to understand the intent of the sender/speaker.  If the intent is misunderstood, the message may be as well.

I observed the same message as written text, audio, and video.  Basically, Jane tells Mark that she needs the missing report that he is responsible for as soon as possible as she may miss her deadline without it.  At the end of the message, she suggests that Mark could also send the data in a separate email. In each case, my interpretation was different.  In Table 1, I present my interpretation of the message based on the media that presented it.

Table 1

Media Effect on Interpretation

Media Interpretation
Text (emailed message) Jane is trying to be diplomatic with her opening, but without other cues, I thought the message appeared impatient and negative.  Jane is pressuring Mark to complete and send a report that could cause her to miss her own deadline.
Audio (recorded message) The tone of Jane’s voice does much to soften the message.  Now it sounds much more conciliatory.  Jane’s voice suggests that she is reluctant to push Mark to complete his report, but she has to because of her looming deadlines.
Video (face-to-face message) Jane’s body language is very casual.  This works like her voice to remove negativity, but also removes the sense of urgency implicit in the text and audio messages.

The audio was much better as Jane’s tone of voice supplied the sincerity and understanding that was lacking in the text.  It would have been better were she able to communicate with him directly rather than through a voice recording.  Mark may not listen to the voice recording in a timely manner or may quickly forget or dismiss it, given his busy schedule. The message was much clearer with the addition of tonality. The need for the report is still urgent, but she has acknowledged his busy schedule in a caring way. Unfortunately, unless she follows the phone call with a written request, the communication might not be effective.Dr. Stolovitch discussed the importance of diplomacy in communications (Laureate Education, n.d.).  Jane attempts to be diplomatic in her communications with Mark.  She begins her message acknowledging how busy he is before she requests that he complete his report. In the text message, this attempt to soften the urgency of her request lacks the sincerity heard in her voice.  Without that confirming sincerity, this could be read as an attempt to “butter him up” and therefore may be resented.  One of the shortcomings of email communications is the lack of emotional cues (Root, n.d.).  When I first started teaching online, I was unaware of how easily my email communications could be misinterpreted. I tend to be very blunt and bluntness in text is perceived as rudeness.  In the rush to communicate, it is easy to skip the niceties and skip ahead to the message.  Attempts to be polite may fail as the communication lacks emotion.

After viewing the video, I thought that Jane’s casual body language was in conflict with the urgency of her request.  Were I Mark, I would likely dismiss her comments based on her body language.  To retain the urgency, while simultaneously making the request more personal, she could have scheduled a meeting to discuss the situation.  This would add some gravity to the situation and make it difficult for Mark to ignore.  Jane could then follow the face-to-face meeting with an email to confirm their mutual understanding of the need for the report and the urgency of her request.

Communication media is often chosen for convenience, but the speed and ease of email communications and voice messages comes at a cost in terms of clarity and effectiveness.  Face-to-face communication is more likely to be correctly interpreted, but only if the body language matches the message.

The various forms of communications might be most effective if used in concert.  A text message could be used to establish a time to meet in person or if that is not possible talk on the phone.  Another email message could follow the phone or face-to-face communications to acknowledge what was said and insure that all participants gained the same understanding of the message (Portney, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008).

This experience has reinforced my previous concerns about the inadequacies of email in terms of conveying the meaning of a message.  At the same time, communications between stakeholders are often too important to be delivered through a voice recording or during a casual conversation at a cubicle. As Portney et al. (2008) suggested, all communications should be recorded and followed by a written document to ensure a mutual understanding of what was discussed.

References

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.a). Communicating with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Root, George (n.d.). Advantages and disadvantages of the use of email as a business communications tool. Small Business Chronical. Retrieved on May 17, 2016 from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-disadvantages-use-email-business-communications-tool-21193.html

Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Description of the Project

In May of 2013, my husband asked me to help him design a walking program for the operators he employs who were disqualified from operating heavy equipment or forced into early retirement due to health issues associated with their sedentary lifestyles. This conversation eventually led to the creation of “Step-it-up, Charleston!”.

“Step-it-up, Charleston!” initially was designed for 50 +/- heavy equipment operators and was based on the use of team competition and meaningful incentives to increase the distance walked each day as monitored by a pedometer.  There were several steps to the process, which spanned 13 weeks, including creating an SOW and then a proposal, acquiring funds, purchasing pedometers, recruiting participants, collecting data, and presenting findings to stakeholders.

At the completion of this pilot, we conducted a post-mortem; based on our conclusions of what worked and what did not work we proceeded upon request to expand the program to all county employees (2000 of which 700 chose to participate) and extend the time to 36 weeks.

As a result of the initial post-mortem, we changed the way we captured and recorded steps by switching to a fitness monitor that provided digital recordings rather than the time consuming physical ones.  This required additional training of participants and supporters of the project.  The expansion also required additional funding. In November of 2015, we completed that program.  The project was a success based on outcomes, but the process was not as successful as it could have been. The following is the post-mortem for that expanded program.

Contributions

Success. For the initial and expanded programs, the team competition and meaningful incentives contributed much to the success of the program.  I based my decisions on how to motivate sedentary employees to walk on multiple health behavior theories.  The teams were up to 10 people whose steps would be combined each week and at the end of the program to determine the winning team.  Most of the teams were constructed based on work affiliation so team members were disinclined to let each other down.

The team approach, however, would not have been as effective without the use of meaningful incentives.  After an analysis of the participants, my husband and I determined that the incentives should be awarded as time off with pay.  In the initial pilot phase, incentives were given to the winners, at the individual and team levels.  This was not as successful as we had hoped as those who got off to a slow start soon gave up as they realized they could not win.  In the expanded version, incentives were awarded based on meeting expectations.  As the CDC recommends 10,000 steps per day, the expectation set was 70,000 steps per week.  All participants who met that goal for 2 weeks in a row were given an hour of paid leave to use as they desired.  Those meeting the goal for multiple 2-week periods not only added additional hours, but also incurred additional time.  Meeting the goal for each of the 2-week periods of the study resulted in 3 additional days off from work over the Christmas holidays.

Failure. There were several major areas of failure related to the process, especially during the expanded phase.

Expansion:  While the expansion of the program from equipment operators to all county government employees was a testament to the pilot’s success, it introduced new obstacles to the project’s success. Whereas before funding was at the department level and my husband as the director of the department could allocate funds, with the expansion all funds had to go through the CFO of the county.  This led to unexpected delays.  Turf wars between department heads also caused delays as several department heads felt they should be in charge and resented my husband’s role.  The most damaging of these turf wars was between the Human Resources Employee Health Director (HR) and my husband.  That director was heard to refer to the program as “Jim’s folly” and did all she could to make it fail. The legal department also introduced several weeks of delays by demanding documentation of every step taken for either programs. My husband and I joked that we were the victims of our own success, but as the start date drew near and the delays continued, we lost our sense of humor.

Monitoring devices: The pedometers used in the pilot had several drawbacks including inaccuracy and poor data storage.  Supervisors had to read manually the steps off the monitor each week and the loss of data was always a possibility.  This led us to seek out bids for a fitness monitor.  Unfortunately, the initial bid request received no bids.  As the project was for a government, waivers were required to bypass the bid process.  Eventually, a fitness monitor was found that promised to do all we needed it to do, but this was at a cost that was unexpected.  This meant that additional funding had to be allocated, which in turn led to more turf wars. The next hurdle associated with the device was delayed delivery.  Again, the numbers of participants far exceeded the expectations; therefore, devices were not always available to new enrollees until weeks after they wanted to start.

Data collection: The main reason we chose the fitness monitor related to collecting data.  The data was necessary to justify the future continuation of the program.  The software promised to monitor the steps of 700 employees was not provided free as promised and the cost of the software far exceeded our remaining budget.  As the software was integral to the success of the program, we had to find additional resources. After we gained access to the software, we discovered that it did not meet our expectations.  Additional time was spent reworking the software to meet our needs and in the interim, no incentives could be rewarded.  This made maintaining the motivation to participate in the program difficult.  This also added significantly to the workload and frustrations of the person responsible for the data.

Sustainability: While the initial goal of the project was to get people walking, the long-term goal was to introduce a sustainable walking program to the employees whose lives have been disrupted by health issues related to their sedentary lifestyles. Disruptions to the process, including those already described threatened this goal.  However, nothing has proven to be a greater obstacle than the poor relationship we have had with the HR person.  She lost data on pre-program height and weight for almost 50% of the participants.  In addition, she has consistently denigrated the program as well as the program initiators and disrupted presentations. As the plan was to demonstrate the program worked and then turn it over to her in HR, her attitude caused great concern for all involved. At the completion of the program in November, she was to adopt it and with the help of the County Administrator find funding to sustain it.  This has not yet happened and is unlikely to happen in the near future.  In response to this, my husband has once again returned the program to his department, where he can sustain it within his budget.

PM Process and What Could Have Been Done

There are several parts of the PM process, which, with improvement during the expanded program, could have yielded more successful outcomes.

Conceive Phase. Our main failure during the conceive phase was in assuming that a program initially offered to 50 could be expanded to 700.  One of the questions that should be asked during this phase is “Can the project be done?” (Portny et al., 2008).  Based on the outcomes of the pilot, we assumed the answer to this was yes, partially as we thought we would only have 200 participants when expanded.  In hindsight, we should have considered the possibility of greater numbers or restricted enrollment to ensure the more manageable 200 or 250 we had anticipated.  We failed to plan for uncertainty in terms of enrollment and this led to initial delays and unanticipated costs (Portny et al., 2008).

Define Phase.  During this phase, we made several mistakes, which affected our projects success.

Project champion. Greer (2010) emphasizes the need for a project champion. Our mistake was not finding someone with more authority than my husband to act in this role.  The turf wars that caused introduced so many obstacles might have been avoided were the project introduced by an administrator rather than a peer director. We also failed to consider the enmity between the HR person and my husband.  Given their history, it was inevitable that she would be uncooperative.  My husband chose to work around her which, while solving the initial problems with delays, in the long term only made the problems worse.

Project schedule. We established a start date, which in hindsight was unrealistic given the constraints of government bureaucracy. Rather than allow the needs analysis to dictate the schedule, we allowed the calendar to dictate the process as we felt we needed to start the program shortly after the beginning of a new year. Thus, our timeline was not resilient to unanticipated delays

Project budget. We never really established a budget.  We determined costs and then located funding rather than establishing funding and then determining how much we could afford.  I think our success with the pilot and our determination to make the program successful led us to cut corners during the define phase.  As Portny et al. (2008) suggested our self-inflicted pressure to get results clouded our judgment and led to skipping some planning in favor of doing.

Start Phase. Our problems during the start phase related to the miss-steps of the previous two phases. While we assigned roles, defined and explained tasks, and announced the project to those involved, as suggested by Portny et al. (2008), issues with the tracking software, schedule, and budget disrupted the process and made the start phase dysfunctional.

Perform Phase. The main failure here was lack of communication. Portny et al. (2008) stressed that all participants in the project need to be updated as to progress and achievements regularly.  The HR person was to provide this county government wide communication, but did not.  We should have anticipated this and built in some communication redundancies to insure all were kept informed.

Close Phase.  The expanded phase of “Step-it-up, Charleston!” was closed in November 2015 with final data collection and the awarding of incentives.  As of 6 months later, the process has not been completed.  Portny et al. (2008) recommended that all projects undergo a post-project evaluation and Greer (2010) provided a systematic review process. Despite this, there has been no formal meeting of stakeholders to conduct this review.  As I have stated, my husband’s department has proceeded to start a new program based on the one completed without conducting this review.  While I understand the time constraints, I think this is a mistake. As this post-mortem demonstrates, there is much to be learned from the mistakes of the past.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects. Retrieved on May 10, 2016 fromhttps://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1/201660_02/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/embedded/pm-minimalist-ver-3-laureate.pdf

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

 

Reflection: The Future of Distance Education

Introduction

George Siemens (Laureate Education, n.d.) opined that distance education is growing in acceptance as a viable alternative to traditional face-to-face learning experiences.  He justifies his opinion by comparing acceptance today to that in the past. Siemens believes that as the use of online communications, experience with new technologies, and comfort with online interactions increase, so too will acceptance of distance education as it relies on these elements. I am not as confident about the future of distance education as I believe there remain potential threats to universal acceptance.

Threats and Opportunities

Threats

While academic dishonesty is not exclusive to distance education, the technology that allows its success also increases the opportunities to cheat. Opportunists have recognized an opportunity to make money based on the growing numbers of online students.  Newton (2015) pointed out the growth of businesses that offer services to students that include providing a surrogate who will participate in the online course in their stead. There is a YouTube video “How to Get Answers for Any Homework or Test” (Curtis, 2014) that demonstrates how to find answers using www.studyblue.com. In addition, a Google search of a test or assignment question can get your many hits.  For example, I searched on a test question I wrote for a course a few years ago and got hits for www.justanswer.com, www.chegg.com, www.essayhomework.net, www.transtutors.com, and www.onlinehomeworkmarket.com.  As institutions cannot update online courses each term, the opportunity for findings answers to material from previous terms persists.

There is also a perception of lowered standards (Neal, 2016).  While this perception extends to face-to-face degrees as well (Lomis & Tomlinson, 2000), it is more prevalent in reference to online programs (Adams, 2009). Adams surveyed admissions administrators in 125 medical universities and found that in 100% of the responses, applicants with a traditional degree were preferred to those with an online or blended degree. Though the perception of limited interaction and poor lab experiences were the primary reason for their responses, admissions administrators also expressed the opinion that online degrees are proffered based on lower academic standards. This concern is heightened in reference to for-profit institutions (Bailey, Badway, and Gumport, 2001).

Opportunities

As instructional designers, we have a unique opportunity to act as a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education.  Simonson, Smaldino, and Zvacek (2015) offered several design solutions to the threat of academic dishonesty.  These include ways to verify student identity, plagiarism policies and checking applications, and test design.  For the test I referenced earlier, I designed standard questions but varied the data each term.  Not only would that prevent students from providing a correct answer based on cheating, it would also expose their cheating as their answers would be correct for a different version of the test. However, design efforts to prevent cheating are only successful if they are backed by institutional policies that deter misconduct.  Perceptions of lowered standards can be countered by creating materials that increase interactions and demand rigor (Simonson et al, 2015).  Blended instruction may be the best way to provide authentic lab experiences, but this is changing as technology advances (Grush, 2013).

Improvements in the perceptions of distance education, especially in relation to the threats I have described, can be had through these continuous improvement efforts. In addition, instructional designers can act as advocates for distance education. Student satisfaction with the distance education experience increases with improvements in course designs (Keller, 1999). As students are more satisfied with their experiences, they too will become advocates of distance education.

Conclusions

Distance education provides educational opportunities to non-traditional students and is growing in popularity.  Acceptance of degrees proffered by distance education programs should grow based on an increasing use, availability, and acceptance of technology that encourages online communications (Laureate Education, n.d.). However, threats to this growth, including the potential for cheating and the perception of lowered standards, will persist if not addressed by the professionals in the field of instructional design.  The goal of instructional designers should be to address the threats and through those efforts improve public perceptions of distance education.

References

Adams, J. (2009). The Acceptability of Online Courses as Criteria for Admission to Medical School. The Ochsner Journal9(1), 4–10.

Bailey, T., Badway, N., & Gumport, P. J. (2001). For-Profit Higher Education and Community Colleges. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED463824.

Curtis, J. (2014). How to get answers for any homework or test [YouTube video file]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSCWCHF2GWc

Grush, M. (2013). Immersive health education form a distance. Campus Technology.  Retreived from https://campustechnology.com/articles/2013/03/27/immersive-health-education-from-a-distance.aspx?=CT21

Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer‐based instruction and distance education. New directions for teaching and learning1999(78), 37-47.

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

Lomas, L., & Tomlinson, K. (2000). Standards: The varying perceptions of senior staff in higher education institutions. Quality Assurance in Education, 8(3), 131-138. Retrieved from http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/213732607?accountid=14872

Neal, D. (April 20, 2016). Opinions of Distance Education (discussion post). Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/discussionboard/

Newton, D. (2015) Cheating in online classes is now big business. The Atlantic. Available at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/cheating-through-online-courses/413770/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance.  Information Age Publishing Inc. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Guide to Converting to Distance Education

While it is possible to convert face-to-face training into a course that can be taught exclusively online or in a blended format, it is not easy. Many instructors/trainers may mistakenly believe that you can just copy and paste materials used in the classroom into a course management system or CMS. Unfortunately, doing that will result in a poor imitation of the face-to-face course (Morrison, D, 2013). Before you get started, you need to review the attached pdf “Guide to Converting to Distance Education” (Assign_Wk7_Neal_D)

In this guide, you will learn

  • How to enhance learners’ experiences
  • How your role will change when the course is converted
  • What to consider during Pre-Planning Activities
  • How to use ADDIE to convert your course

ADDIE

ADDIE

Designing Orientation

The Task Analysis and Instructional Objectives Matrix is a tool that I can use to begin my course design.  The rows represent the course content areas and the columns the steps an Instructional Designer follows based on ADDIE to create a course. This matrix insures that my course goals, objectives, task analyses, and strategies are aligned with each other before I build the course.

Course Map

Task Analysis and Instructional Objectives Matrix

The Task Analysis and Instructional Objectives Matrix is designed to help me identify course modules, objectives, strategy, and required content for the orientation course I am designing in response to Scenario 1A.  I can use this and the Scenario Analysis Matrix I completed in week 2 to build the course project orientation course in CourseSites.

 

Defining Distance Learning

Mindmap

I had never given much thought to a definition of distance learning prior to beginning this course.  I think I just felt it was synonymous with online learning such as that we are engaged in.  As a former instructor at Walden, I was aware of its long history providing education to teachers using correspondence.  I also remember my husband receiving education and training while in the military using a correspondence approach where material was sent to him, he completed it, and then sent it back via the mail. I assumed that as technology evolved the methods used in distance education evolved as well.

As I reviewed the Distance Learning Timeline Continuum (n.d.) presented in the week 1 resources of our course, I was struck by how long distance education has been around.  Its history appears to follow the advent of technology, yet I am not sure that is the whole story.  It is possible that the existence of distance learning and the challenges it faced also lead to the development of communication technology.  This made me question my very simplistic definition of distance learning.  In Distance Education (Laureate Education, n.d.), Dr. Simonson states that distance learning is a misnomer and that distance education is more appropriate as it considers both the learner and the instructor and the distance that is between them. In that sense, distance education can be seen as the thread that connects the instructor and the learner, and yet that seems to suggest that distance learning is always a formal process.

In the theories of education course, I learned that the current paradigm includes the theory of connectivism, how people learn through networks.  These networks can be formal and informal, therefore the learning that occurs could be formal and informal as well.  My previous definition of distance learning was very limited in scope and only included formal educational structures; my new definition needs to be broader and include informal learning processes as well. Distance education may require a distance educator and a distance learner, but distance learning does not.  Traditionally, the educator to learner relationship was one to many (perhaps 20 or so in the best cases, 300 in the worst).  Occasionally, students would have several instructors due to team teaching or the use of teacher assistants.  The information available to the learner was limited by the knowledge and expertise of the instructor.  Today, thanks to technology, the information available to a learner is limitless as more and more connections to those with knowledge and expertise become available.

The theories presented in our text (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015), suggest that distance education requires that there be an interaction between the learner and the educator.  Under this definition, it is hard to consider correspondence courses as distance education as the interaction between educator and learner was very limited. There remain limits in interactions between student and teacher in the online classroom despite the improvements in technology. The distance in space can be overcome, but the distance in time requires asynchronous instruction.  My definition of distance education reflects the theories and my own experiences and includes several elements, a learner, a source of expertise, and a connection between them that bridges the distance imposed by time and space.

For distance learning to occur, all that is required is an engaged student and the means to access the expertise that is available through technology.  Therefore, my new definition of distance learning is the act of acquiring knowledge using expertise that is available, though at a distance in time or space.  The learning can be formal or informal and uses current technologies to connect the learner to the expertise and knowledge they seek.  Using this definition, the possibilities for distance learning in the future are endless.  This is true as well with the more formal distance education where the instructor can draw from limitless sources of expertise.  All that is required is the technology to connect and students inquisitive and motivated enough to initiate their own learning.

The future is bright, but to achieve it educators will need to overcome existing barriers.  The primary barrier for both distance education and distance learning is the students who have lost their natural desire to learn after years of passive learning in a classroom.  Watch a young child explore their surroundings, then observe that same child at 5 years old, forced to sit at a desk and focus on something that is forced upon them.  After years of this, is it any wonder that the child’s natural inquisitiveness is squashed?  If you add frustrations with the pace of the class, whether too fast or too slow, distractions due to government regulations, such as mandatory testing, and disruptions from disciplinary issues and it should not be surprising that many high school graduates have lost interest in learning. As a result, learners complete coursework, whether online or face-to-face simply to earn a grade towards their degree. For distance learning and distance education to continue to evolve and grow, as well as both follow and lead to new technologies, educators at all levels will need to embrace a new paradigm that requires an active learner.

References

Distance Learning Timeline Continuum (n.d.) Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Chapter 2, Definitions, History, and Theories of Distance Education. In Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (pp. 31–40). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.