Saturday, November 20, 2010


From time to time, various classes in the course I am taking at Walden University require me to write blog entries as a way to demonstrate my ability to apply what I am learning to a practical issue. In my current class,”Distance Learning,” I am required to blog about what distance learning tools I might use to solve a hypothetical problem using a distance-learning technology. In the scenario I am solving, a new colaborative information-sharing system was introduced for the purpose of providing a means for staff in a mult-location corporation to participate in ongoing collaboration, sharing screen captures and documents. (“Distance learning technologies: Application”)

The goal of this exercise is to identify the distance learning technologies that might provide the best solution to the challenge. Unfortunately, the hypothetical scenario provides no information about the system that learners will eventually use for their collaborative projects, nor was any information given regarding the number of people involed in the training. These factors would affect the decision on what kind of technology is best suited to the project.

Since the training is for managers, I assume there will be a small number people around a conference room table at each location. Since the goal of the training is to empower learners to collaborate, I believe the solution must include using the new technology in a collaborative manner.

I believe I would begin by using a two-way videoconferencing technology (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, pp. 101-103) to acquaint users with the technology they will be using. I would schedule six individual meetings, one at each regional office. Before the meetings, pre-learning surveys would be emailed  to each participant to be returned prior to training to help guide which topics may need emphasis and possible pre-training.

I would use remote control software such as the open-source  “UltraVNC” (“Remote control for all,” 2008) to operate a remote computer screen running the actual collaboration software as users become aquainted with it. The computer running the collaboration software would be in the conference room with the learners. The instructor would have remote control of the machine and would see the same display. I would use a telephone or voice over IP (VOIP) connection (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, p. 153) for two-way discussions between the instructor and the small group of distant learners.

After providing users with an overview of the product, I would assign groups of learners with collaborative projects to explore advanced aspects of using the software. Learners would use the colloborative software to work together to create their own supplements to the software documentation.

A follow-up set of teleconference meetings would provide for face-to-face discussion of learner experiences with the new collaboration software.

Finally, learners would be asked to post a reflection of their experience in the seminar to the collaborative learning system, and post-learning surveys would be sent to each learner to gain insight into the perceived effectiveness of the training and to solicit suggestions for ways to improve continued training.


Remote control for all. (2008). UltraVNC. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Technologies for distance education. In Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Defining Distance Learning

Walden University is actually not my first experience with distance learning, although distance learning has changed so much since I first experienced it that it seems entirely different.

The way we define distance learning seems to change with the technologies that make distance learning possible. Michael Simonson defines distance learning in terms of a teacher and a student, separated by time and space. Absense of a teacher defines what Simonson terms “self-study at a distance.” (Simonson) 

I don’t agree with Dr.Simonson, because I think any kind of social-learning element disqualifies the “self study” label, as illustrated by my crude illustration (top left) of a T.A.R.D.I.S. (meaning time and relative dimensions in space). (Rose, 2005) 

As a high school student I participated in a Moody Correspondence School course that defined my understanding of distance learning until very recently. The course required a facilitator and regular face-to-face discussions with other students.

The course consisted of twelve chapters assigned over twelve consecutive weeks. Each chapter had required text to read, and a formative evaluation at the end of each chapter with a discussion preparation assignment. Each week, students would meet together for discussion conducted by the facilitator. Grades were issued based on discussion participation and periodic quizzes.

My next experience with distance learning happened about ten years later. I had a vision to build a business around helping young couples just starting their families to begin a disciplined program of saving and investing. I did not intend to profit directly from the investment business, but rather I intended to market various financial services that would supplement a core of long-term savings and investments.

As part of my strategy, I purchased a distance-learning package to teach me how to become a licensed securities broker. The courses I purchased involved books to study, tapes to play, quizzes to complete and mail in, and finally I had to go to a testing center in Chicago to be tested using a Plato terminal. When I went to take my tests, other people were also at the facility taking various other kinds of tests.

Several years later, as a home-schooling parent, I purchased a rather expensive service for my son’s education. The system consisted of a set of multimedia CD-Rom’s with reading assignments, videos, puzzles, games and quizzes. The service also came with a crude three-way text messaging system between my son, myself, and an online instructor. Most of the text messages from my son involved discussing technical problems with the software, responses from a teacher who obviously felt my son was making excuses, and emails from me explaining the technical problems were real, and required repairs.

In following years, we upgraded our computer equipment and internet service, and purchased a similar service from the same company that cost less, and allowed me to directly monitor my son’s school work from a distance. This arrangement allowed me to view the same screens my son saw, and to clear and reset and override grades when the software failed to recognize correct responses.

Later we purchased an Algebra course on video tape. Each day our children would play a ten-minute taped presentation, and then do a set of exercises, much as would happen in a classroom, but without the interaction of a classroom. This plan worked well with my son, but it was not nearlly as successful when I tried it with my daughters. In hind-sight I realize the plan failed because people learn best in a social setting.

Now that I am taking classes at Walden University, I have a broader perspective of what distance learning can and should be. Each class consists of a variety of learning experiences including assigned reading of textbook chapters, journal articles, and various multimedia presentations. Some of the presentations are interactive. All classes involve asynchronous discussions in which students write a summation applying what they have learned from the assigned materials, and discussing their ideas with other students, providing encouragement, asking questions, and answering questions.

Having experienced traditional lecture-halls with assigned reading and student study groups, I can say my experience at Walden has been just as rigorous, as traditional lecture-hall methods, but my actual learning defined by my ability to use what I have learned is significantly better with the structure I am currently experiencing.

My definition of distance learning is instruction that involves social interaction involving a separation of time and space between those involved in the educational interaction. 


Simonson, Michael. (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Video file]. 

Rose. (2005). Doctor Who [Television episode] Writer Russell T. Davies, Director Keith Boak, Producer Phil Collinson. BBC, Cardiff.