Defining Distance Learning

January 10, 2011

For this week’s blog assignment, we are supposed to define distance learning. Prior to starting this course, I would have defined the current state of distance learning as the act of learning through media delivered via the Internet. My definition excluded other media such as phone, television, and DVDs as I believed these media represented a small portion of current distance learning offerings now and in the future. My definition did not limit the media type delivered via the Internet. I believed that streaming videos, blog posts, discussion forums, webinars, and university-level online courses all were valid components of distance learning. These components could be delivered to a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device.

After this week’s studies, I now understand that my definition of distance learning was too narrow. I should not place that many limitations on the media types. Correspondence teaching still occurs in locations where modern technologies are not prevalent. Two-way audio and video systems using fiber-optic lines allow instructors to interact with students at a distance (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2009).

The words distance and learning  also help define the term. The distance component refers to both space and time. Distance includes the space is the separation in location between the instructor, the student, and the other students. Distance also includes the difference in time that occurs in asynchronous learning when the student uses learning modules at a time of their choosing.

The learning component refers to the act of participating in a learning endeavor. This includes instruction, interaction, practice, and evaluation. Self-study at a distance is not distance learning (Simonson, 2011). All of the pieces of a well constructed learning module must exist for learning to occur.

My definition of distance learning can now be represented by this mind map. The definition of distance learning will continue to evolve as new technologies emerge. Prior to 1922-1923, when colleges began using radio broadcast (Walden University, 2011), distance learning was synonymous with correspondence courses. Until technologies existed to allow students to interact with instructors, distance learning was one-way with all of the information flowing from instructor to student. As new technologies facilitate additional means of interaction and evaluation, the definition of distance learning will probably change again.


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

Simonson, M., Distance Education: The Next Generation [Online video]. Retrieved January 4, 2011, from

Walden University. (2011). Distance Learning Timeline Continuum [Flash Application]. Retrieved January 9, 2011, from

Reflections on Learning Theories and Instruction Course

February 26, 2010

As I consider what I learned in the Learning Theories and Instruction course, a few things stand out. I was able to confirm a few existing beliefs about how people learn. I learned that a social aspect to online learning is necessary to keep adult learners properly engaged. I understand more about the way that I learn. And I believe that I have a good foundation for my further studies in Instructional Design.

Some beliefs that were confirmed by this class include the need for real world examples, the poor match between memorization and complex problems, and the need to have motivated learners. Real world examples help students store instructions in their long term memory by providing multiple connections to prior memories. Real world examples also facilitate recall and transfer when trying to apply instructions to new and similar tasks. My next confirmed belief is that rote memorization does not work for complex problems. Complex problems have many variables and nuances that cannot be practiced and rehearsed and memorized. Students need problem solving skills and conditional thinking methods that allow them to apply previously learned instructions to new problems. Finally, students learn better when motivated. They focus better, retain more, and study harder. The piece that is somewhat new to me is the role that the instructor can play. Previously I considered motivation to be mostly internal and now I realize that the instructor can employ methods to foster motivation.

The biggest surprise for me in all of our reading is the need for, and effectiveness of, a social aspect to learning, particularly online learning. I know of a company that has online training modules that employ PowerPoint slides with embedded videos and interactive Flash elements. They are aesthetically pleasing and contain excellent technical information, yet they receive low grades from students. I now believe this is because there is no interaction in these online training modules. The students do not interact with a facilitator or other students. While watching a module, the students do not have anyone to talk with nor any way to ask for further explanation of a difficult subject. The modules do not provide feedback when an exercise is completed.

While I now believe that social interaction is important in online learning, I see it as a large challenge within my organization. We have many users with over 1 million copies sold worldwide of our CAD software package. While it would be relatively easy to place learning modules online, it will be quite difficult to provide instructor support in multiple languages and multiple time zones. Maybe the courses will have to be structured so that the interaction between the students is the most important social aspect. I think this will be a challenging endeavor and I look forward to it.

As for my own learning process, I understand that the rote memorization tactics that I used in grade school to score well on tests do not reflect my learning style today. I employ a more cognitive approach to learning now. I do not just learn the meaning of a word, I try to understand its use within a sentence or document. To learn a new software application, I do not simply memorize the list of functions and locations of the toolbar buttons. I learn the application by using it to create something meaningful. I need to use the application in my daily work or often for a hobby so I can become proficient in its use.

As I look forward to furthering my instructional design career, I believe that this course will be a great foundation. I have to admit that I was skeptical early on. The first chapter in our course text briefly talked about the history of learning theories and frequently interrupted the text with many citations. The second chapter talked about how the various parts of the brain store and retrieve memories. I found both chapters difficult to read and I questioned how this was all going to relate to instructional design.

As the course progressed, however, I began to see the relevance for my understanding of instructional design. Some key points include:

  • It is necessary to vary the learning theory based on the learning task. Behaviorist learning works well for simple associations and cognitive learning works well for more complex problems.
  • It is not critical to vary the learning style to meet the student’s needs. A student’s learning style changes depending on the material being presented and research continues to be done to understand the relevance of individual learning styles.
  • As stated previously, it is important to include real world examples and a social aspect to learning.

I look forward to the next course, Instructional Design, to start putting all this theory into practice planning better courses.

My Learning Style

February 21, 2010

In Week 1 of my Learning Theories and Instruction class, we were supposed to examine how we thought we learned. My discussion focused on how I used to learn as a high school student with lots of memorization and repetition. I am no longer the same person I was in high school and I no longer learn in the same fashion.

As an adult learner, one of the biggest keys for me is motivation. I attempted to learn Spanish several times over the past 10 years because we have some large Spanish-speaking neighborhoods nearby. I tried books and CDs in the car and I was never able to make much progress. Why not? I don’t think it was because I am unable to learn a new language. Gardner talks about multiple intelligences and how most learners have the capacity to expand on their knowledge in many ways. I believe it was because my motivation was low. It would be nice to learn a new language but it was not necessary for me to do so. It was not required for my job or my family life and so I never dedicated myself to the task.

By contrast, I enjoy learning things that will help me in my role as a training specialist. I attend more seminars than others in my group. I investigate ways to get more from our authoring tools. I am pursuing this Instructional Design and Technology Certificate because I predict that our training group will have to change from traditional instructor-led, lecture-heavy teaching to something else soon.

Another think I’ve learned is that I learn best by solving real-world problems. When a problem comes up at work, colleagues often turn to me to help them resolve the issue. I read the help, search the Knowledge Base, and try various solutions until the correct solution appears. For me it is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. The research and trials are enjoyable and I feel a sense of completion when I find the solution.

Finally, this class has taught me a lot about the value of being connected to many sources of information. I am amazed at the wealth of information available in blogs. I find myself jumping from one link to another, unable to stop reading more about the changing role of technology in the classroom. I am pleased with the number of articles and eBooks we were introduced to in this class. Hopefully I can read the remainders of some eBooks, such as Dimensions of Adult Learning: Adult Education and Training in a Global Era [Foley, G (Ed.). (2004)]. We were assigned only 2 chapters of this 17 chapter book and I think there will be more helpful information within. I also find myself employing technology to take notes of important facts and details so I can recall them later in the years following this course. In the old days, a pile of looseleaf sheets in a three ring binder was sufficient. Now, using an iPhone app such as Evernote, or a workstation based tool such as Microsoft OneNote, allows me to write reminders to myself that are easily sorted into different folders and quickly searched for reminders of key information.

So I’m throwing away my flashcards and discarding old notebooks. I have a new, connected way to learn and I am excited about the possibilities moving forward.

Connectivism – Reflections on MindMap

February 7, 2010

As I think about my Mind Map, I am immediately struck by the number of connections that come from the past few months. I purchased an iPhone in November that has added informative podcasts and connectivity wherever I go. My daily commute to work is now filled with world news and technology information. This class added a number of blogs and eBooks and also added a social network of classmates who I can learn with. When I started this class, I expected my learning environment to include only a textbook and video lectures. I never expected this many connections to assist my learning.

Another revelation is how easy it is to acquire knowledge when I have questions. Resources include emails to my instructor, general posts for the instructor and students to see, and searches in the Walden University library to find answers within eBooks. Another source that I just considered is the technical resources section of our class that helped us learn to create our own blog and Mind Map. Those technical resources saved me many hours of searching for answers on the internet.

The last observation I have about my Mind Map relates to the connections I have made to get me where I am in my learning journey. My family encouraged my passion for math and science which led me to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The career center at WPI helped me find my technical support job at SolidWorks. My role as Training Specialist encouraged me to pursue this Certificate of Instructional Design and Technology. And this class added a number of connections as stated earlier.

Going forward, I hope this Mind Map will continue to grow. I’ve added so many connections recently and am excited to see what other connections I will add with more courses and access to other instructors and colleagues.

Connectivism – MindMap

February 4, 2010

For this week’s assignment for class, I created a MindMap. I tried to think about all of the connections that help my learning these days and influence how I arrived in my current career as a trainer. I’ll post more later in this week to explain more about some of the items in this MindMap.


Joe Rousseau's MindMap

Cognitive Information Processing and Careers

January 18, 2010

The March 2008 edition of The Career Development Quarterly includes an article titled, “Enlisted Service Members’ Transition Into the Civilian World of Work: A Cognitive Information Processing Approach.” This article presents cognitive information processing theory as a foundation for working with enlisted military personnel who are transitioning into the civilian world of work [p. 246]. A career counselor gathers information about the client, both personal and information about the client’s occupational skills. Then the counselor uses the CASVE cycle to assist their clients. CASVE is an acronym that stands for: communication, analysis, synthesis, valuing, and execution.

In the article, there is a story of the application of Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) to an enlisted soldier trying to enter the workforce. The career counselor first learns about the client. This is important so the counselor can relate advice to what the client already knows. Once the client’s needs are analyzed, the counselor formulates goals for their work together. This helps focus the client’s attention. The formerly daunting, undefined task of starting a new career now has focus. Next, an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) is created by the counselor. The ILP is presented in such a way as to relate the relevance, purpose, and priority for the activities to the client.

Overall, I found the article interesting because of its application of CIP outside of the classroom environment. As I continue learning the material in my Information Design and Technology classes, I will try to think of other applications for learning beyond school.

Functional MRI (fMRI)

January 17, 2010

The January/February 2010 edition of Discover magazine includes an article, “The 100 Discoveries that are Changing the World”. Number 18 on the list is called, “Rise of the Mind Readers“. The article notes that functional MRIs (fMRI) can reveal to neuroscientists how the brain functions. Various studies show how the brain differentiates between true and false statements and which parts of the brain are activated in response to different stimuli. All of these studies were published in 2009.

I read about Methods in Brain Research in Learning Theories and Instruction, p.31-32. This text mentions fMRI as one method. As I read this section, I wondered about the practical applications of this research. I wondered why it mattered which part of the brain is stimulated when a person performs a particular task.

The study that shows how the brain differentiates between true and false statements helps me see how brain research can be applied. This could be a powerful interrogation tool for law enforcement personnel. Imagine if this type of test is more reliable than a traditional “lie detector” test with a  polygraph machine. Information gathered from statements made during interrogation could be treated more reliably than statements currently taken during questioning.

I am sure there are many other practical applications for brain research. I believe there is much more to be learned from studies of the brain.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning Theories and Instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson

Three Sites to Follow

January 10, 2010

This blog begins as an assignment for my Learning Theories and Instruction class at Walden University. My task is to identify and link to three blogs that contain relevant content that I hope will enhance my learning and growth as an instructional designer.

The Mobile Learner

I find this blog by Rob De Lorenzo fascinating because of its discussions of the use of mobile devices in student learning. I believe that students want to learn everywhere, not just within the walls of a brick and mortar classroom. Mobile devices allow students to collaborate with each other, to research topics at their convenience using the internet, and to listen to podcasts or audio books to continue their learning wherever they travel.

I purchased an iPhone two months ago and have stopped listening to the radio in my car. I subscribe to podcasts such as This Week in Tech and recently completed the audio book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I embrace the opportunity to learn on the go. I believe I need to learn more about mobile learning so I can add this element to courses I design.

Instructional Design and Development Blog

This site is maintained by staff members of the Instructional Design and Development department at DePaul University. To quote, “The site’s primary goal is to provide information on enhancing instruction through the use of technology.” I like the focus on the use of technology for the same reason I like The Mobile Learner. I believe students are increasing their use of technology to further their studies and learning outside of a traditional classroom.

I particularly enjoyed the post titled, Teaching Frustrations: Why Don’t Students Follow My (Clearly-Labeled, Logically Organized, and Bold/Highlighted/Flashing) Instructions? by Sarah Brown. An instructor may have the best intentions to write exceptionally clear instructions for online learning. However, students may read or scan online material in a fashion that does not match the presentation of the instructor’s choosing. This post makes me appreciate the efforts of Walden University to educate its new students on how to learn online. New students are given a Student Readiness Orientation course to help them become proficient in navigating an online classroom.

Dangerously Irrelevant

The tagline for this blog by Scott McLeod drew me in. It is, “Ruminations on technology, leadership, and the future of our schools.” By now you can probably guess I like the technology focus of this blog. But it is the portion of the tagline, “the future of our schools” that captivates me most. In Learning Theories and Instruction, p.10-15, we see how much learning theory has grown since 1950. Since that time, learning theories applicable to the classroom gained prominence, cognitive manners of learning were studied more, and the perceived importance of social and cultural factors in learning grew.

Mr. McLeod’s blog has an exceptionally large number of posts. There are 104 posts in the “Teaching and Learning” category alone. I look forward to spending some time reading posts in these categories and others to learn more about “the future of our schools.”

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning Theories and Instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson

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