Initially I used to define distance learning as the learning methodology where the instructor and the learners are separated geographically and interact asynchronously. In this methodology, learners access the course resources via internet, radio, TV, or postal services. Interactions between the instructor and the learners occur via a telecommunication system such as the internet, telephone, postal correspondence, among many others depending on the technology available.
However, my view of distance learning is starting to consider another element such as the institutionally based of the educational organizations delivering distance education (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015). Previously, I used to think that any non-accredited course delivered with the distance methodology could be considered as well an important part of the distance education system. But according to Simonson et al. (2015) distance courses from a non institutionalized organization are considered as self-study.
Even though I am not pretending to contradict the institutionalized based component of distance learning, I still think distance education courses from non institutionalized organizations are an important player in the evolution of distance education since now there are available a myriad of courses learners are taking to get a new knowledge or advanced their existing skills without the need of strict entry pre-requisites or high costs that can characterized some of the formal institutionalized education. I personally have taken distance courses with the e-learning methodology about topics such as instructional design, finance, teaching adult learners, and writing for the web that are from non institutionalized organizations but that still offered good quality courses from subject matter experts.
As a result my revised definition of distance learning now as evolved to include the criteria offered by Garrison and Shale (as cited in Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015) where distance education is the learning methodology where there is a two-way educational communication between instructor and learners that occurs non-contiguously with the use of technology to establish that two-way communication or any other communication system in those cases where technology is limited.
This broader definition of distance learning could potentially be more inclusive to future trends of distance education while still considering those places with limited technological resources. Distance education will continue to provide “learning opportunities using mass-produced courseware to a mass market” (p. 35) as expressed by Edwards (as cited in Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).
The future of distance education will not only depend on communication technology to reach bigger audiences and better software to develop courses, but also will depend on the willingness from educational institutions to democratize the education in order to offer more learning opportunities while attending different requirements from learners. It will be ideal and it will bring huge benefits if learners from different parts of the world could access with distance education accredited courses at the lowest possible cost (Buchen, 2008) that could raise their skills for employment and development in order to improve their quality of life and benefit their communities.
Buchen, I. H. (2008). The Future Agenda of Distance Education. Distance Learning, 5(4), 15-18.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.