Why (And How) Distance Learning Needs To Change

dlearningThe amount of knowledge and information that must be taught to the leaders of tomorrow is expanding at a tremendous rate. The high school graduating class of 2008 will be exposed to more new information in one year than their grandparents were in a lifetime. Memorizing facts will have a much lower value, while utilizing information for analysis and decision making will be a critical skill for educational and professional advancement.

The typical worker will have many distinct careers in his or her lifetime. Each of these career paths or changes will require the attainment and practice of new knowledge, skills, and competencies. Lifelong learning will be something any individual must do to remain competitive. Students will be expected to have an ability to conduct research, analyze data, adapt to changes, etc. In this way, both full time university students and part time working students may need a wider array of options in order to complete their studies. Enter distance learning. Its flexibility, accessibility, and program diversity meet many of the educational needs of a wide range of individuals, making learning more meaningful, effective, and practical.

Bringing International Study Home

The world is shrinking rapidly. The Internet has brought the world together in ways that nobody could have expected. You can now attend a college halfway around the world with classmates living in any country. International education will likely gain in popularity and enrollment as demand from students increases. Travel costs, bureaucracy, and cultural barriers will impact international study less and less.

Learning Practical Technical Skills

The skills that distance learning will impact upon students will continue to increase in demand; skills such as an ability to learn, to adapt quickly, to communicate across a neutral medium, to analyze data, to utilize technology, an ability to conduct research, and, of course, the ability to work independently without compromising productivity.

Colleges, universities, and schools of the future will utilize technologies far more advanced than those of today. (Consider the complexity of technology today, some of which would have been inconceivable only thirty years ago.) Learning to use the new technology will be essential to navigating modern life and advancing professionally.

How Will Distance Learning Continue to Evolve?

In order to meet the needs of the changing world noted above, future learning must be:

  • Time flexible
  • Independent of geography (lacking geographical barriers)
  • Competitive cost/value
  • Learner-centered with less emphasis on lecture-style classes
  • High-technology, incorporating new media and computer applications as part of instructor presentations and course work
  • Culturally diverse
  • Adaptable to the needs of the global marketplace
  • Growth oriented from the perspective of the individual and organization
  • Contemporary material that is relevant to the times

What Needs To Change?

Organizations that deliver distance learning will need to consider these issues and more:

  • Realize what market and demographic groups they serve
  • Be responsive to adult learner needs
  • Prove their value to adult learners, such as quality, relevance in material, convenience, etc.
  • Take direction from business organizations and in response, anticipate and adapt to their needs
  • Streamline the instruction process
  • Look for partnerships with other complementary organizations
  • Find creative ways to certify learning credentials
  • Be prepared to compete globally with a variety of learning providers
  • Stay abreast of relevant issues in education
  • Understand that the paradigm of thinking in education has changed over the last fifty years and will continue to change in the future

Predictions For The Future of Distance Learning

As a result of all of those factors, we may see some of the following predictions come true in the next decade.

Corporations will compete directly with colleges and K-12 schools, as has already begun to happen with charter schools.

  • Partnerships and mergers between learning institutions, publishers, technology companies, and learning providers will consolidate the marketplace
  • A greater percentage of learning (formal and informal) will take place online
  • The role of the instructor will be broken down into multiple specialized positions: curriculum design, content delivery, classroom facilitator, learner support, etc.
  • Demand for top instructors will grow in both the education market and in business
  • Fewer students will get the traditional on-campus degree and most will get at least a portion of their formal education online and off-campus
  • Adult students will become more commonplace and schools will more readily facilitate these learners
  • Cultural diversity will become increasingly more integrated into formal education
  • Learners will complete degrees and certificates made up of courses and experiences from a wide range of learning providers private, public, traditional and online.

1 Comment

  1. Joe Beckmann

    August 31, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Two problems with this formulation: first, it does not distinguish between high risk and high gain, and so “corporate competition” for example is presented as an undiluted gain when, in fact, it has inspired a massive inflation in charges to the next generation. Second, it illustrates how often very progressive policy makers ignore often obvious implications (like costs) while celebrating options that could be achieved at far less social as well as economic costs. The presumption that “the marketplace” exists in some ideal fashion, and is not, in fact, an interactive, dynamic, and locally derived range of options that may or may not all be realistic or practical, is incredibly dangerous – as Bill Moyers’ interview with Mark Liebovich so elegantly portrays(http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-mark-leibovich-on-americas-gilded-capital/), or even as Jeff Selingo’s College (Un)Bound so well documents.