N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Delving into Distance Education

The first definition of Distance Education I posted was “Education (both teaching and learning) that takes place asynchronously using a variety of technology to facilitate learning through communication.” I claimed at the time that I wanted to keep it simple, but in my simplicity I missed a few very important elements.

I, of course, didn’t realize this at the time. I though, with the reading I had done I was well equipped to compose my own definition. It wasn’t until I had forged ahead with further readings and spent time thinking about points my fellow students brought up that I realized there were aspects to my definition that were lacking.

First, I left out the synchronous classroom and this means I also left out blended classrooms as well. After doing my readings and writing my essay on the definition of distance education, I became fascinated with the various way in which synchronous and blended classrooms play a part in learning. So much so, I even did an essay (in my 603 class) on videoconferencing in the distance education class. I feel like this aspect of Distance Education is the next big thing, and I would like to further explore it.

I did not include media, and while this might be a subtle shift in my definition it is an important one. When I was considering technology, I wasn’t including the items that the professor might create or offer access to…quizzes, personality tests, e-portfolio examples….things that make the classroom a more verdant space in which to learn.

Finally, I forgot to include an organizing body/institution in my definition. These governing bodies offer similarity between sections of the same class leading to cohesion between classes within the program. It also allows a bit of normalization on the assignment requirements and grading. All of this together allows for all the students of a particular degree program to come away with the same knowledge and thus the same degree value.

Distance Education, as the changes in my definition show, has developed over the first few weeks of class into something more complex than what I started with. That is a very good thing. The more I am forced to realize the complexities of the field I have chosen as my career pursuit, the more I realize what distance education has and must offer its students and instructors both. When first exposed to Otto Peters’ theory of industrialization, I had not considered the impact that mass production had had on education (not just business)(Peters, 2010). Now I can’t help but see the influence, which also allows me to see how we have moved away from that standardization of distance education and into something more fluid like Homberg’s Empathy Theory (2005). This theory encourages us to move beyond what is considered important in traditional education and make the connection needed with students that will never have a face-to-face experience with either instructors or fellow students (Holmberg, 2005). I am sure as I continue, my view of DE will continue to change and deepen as I am exposed to ever more complexities and challenges…I look forward to those changes.

I have always considered myself as someone who could learn in any number of ways (reading, listening, watching) it didn’t much matter, but my view of myself as a learner has been turned on its head lately. At the beginning of this class, I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate for online learning. I love to read, to learn new things and write. I wanted to make new friends in the profession in which I have an interest, in hopes of making lasting professional and personal connections. I took the preparedness test suggested in the MDE Orientation, and got 54 points, I was happy with the result.

“45-54: You will probably do well in a distance education course, but you will have to remind yourself to stay on task.” (Kizlik, 2007)

But now, four weeks into this class I’ve changed my tune entirely. As a matter of fact, I’ve said to more than one person that online learning is harder than any other class I’ve taken. Those from the outside want to look at online degree-granting universities as diploma mills where the dregs of society get a chance to “make themselves better”…but this is no joke. I struggle to stay current on readings and postings and assignments. I find myself mourning the interaction with the instructor that is so easily found by staying after class, as I feel like that interaction helps me understand what they want from assignments. I’ve decided that I miss the standardized interaction found in a face-to-face class.

Does it make me want to quit? No. I’ve never been that kind of person. But it did make me go back to my assessment and look at which questions I’d put a 5 on…and one of them, “helping others with learning needs” jumped out at me (Kizlik, 2007). I realized that I do my best learning by trying to help others understand. It requires me to internalize what I’ve read and try to explain my reactions to others. And while the other students in the class don’t necessarily need my help, by posting I can further examine and try to explain what I’ve gotten out of the topic for that week. Thus I’ve added a personal reminder to read and respond to posts not only on the day I post but right before the content closes on Sunday. This give me the opportunity to respond to the maximum number of posts and see any last minute announcements from the instructor.

I’ve also taken it upon myself to organize my study group. I’ve never considered myself a leader, but again, I like to help people and found myself taking the lead quite easily. Although we got a late start I see good things coming from our first wave grid…and I can see us working MUCH better together in the future now that we have a leader that understands that we need more asynchronous communication going back and forth as well as synchronous meetings to help us finalize our project.

My view of the MDE program has changed dramatically during the past few weeks. When I first decided to join the MDE program, I expected to have a great deal of background knowledge on which to rely during this “foundations” course. I expected this whole process to be a reinforcement of my current knowledge, with an introduction to theories and scholars in the field. Now, I see the program as much more…it not only does everything I’ve mentioned above, but it leads students to new and useful technology and encourages them to use it. MDE is using Twitter to connect students to scholars online, and encouraging an interaction so that these people become less removed and more interactive. Using blogs to develop ideas outside of the classroom materials, thus allowing students to fully explore things that might not be central to the week’s topic, but is important none the less. Using E-Portfolio to go beyond the old-school “resume on-line” and actually present a space that shows our learning process and eventually will trace the development of our interests and passions in the Distance Education Field.

The UMUC MDE program has gone beyond just teaching and has begun to develop, in a very organic way, a multifaceted online professional. I expect to graduate with more than a degree, but an entire array of tools that I have taken time to develop in my classes which I can bring to my employer making me more valuable and useful.

The UMUC Library’s guide to OMDE601 is a great collection of resources for research and guides to things such as APA citations. I used this guide to find additional resources to supplement our class readings, and I used the citation guide to build my APA citations. I actually used, for the first time, the APA citation for “Book read on an e-reader” with our CourseSmart textbooks. I expect to continue using this course guide as I proceed into our next assignments, and am sure I will continue to find it helpful in guiding my research.


Holmberg, B. (2005). The evolution, principles, and practice of distance education. Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universit├Ąt Oldenburg. Available from http://www.box.com/shared/y97qyc7m0t

Kizlik, B. (2007). Getting Ready for Distance Education Distance Education Aptitude and Readiness Scale (DEARS). Retrieved from http://www.adprima.com/dears.htm

Peters, O. (2010). The theory of the “most industrialized education”. In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues (5th ed). Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universit├Ąt Oldenburg. Available from: http://www.box.com/s/ktx7ipccetotqrr11mct