Before starting this course, my experience with distance learning involved learning French. In 1978, I saw an advertisement in a Popular Electronics magazine that offered French lessons through the mail. I had just finished my second quarter of French at the university and I thought that I might continue studying French through the post. It was a lot cheaper than paying for it at the university. Additionally, I could use the few remaining electives to learn something else.
The correspondence courses consisted of audio tapes and workbooks. I would listen to the audio tapes and practice enunciating the words as the speaker on the tape. There were also sections on the tape where I had to listen carefully and answer the questions in the workbook. Once the workbook was completed, I would send the book back for grading and then wait for the next program set to arrive. As a side note, there were courses offered with VHS materials but they were too costly for me at the time.
When I decided to go back to school to take on a new path in my career, I was thinking of going to my local university to study and I was dreading the commute. Traffic in San Diego has gotten atrocious. However, what has always been in plain sight but I have never seen were the advertisements for distance learning. That is when I started looking into the various distance-learning universities and I settled on Walden University. I was nervous and scared during the first few courses but I quickly got comfortable with the course formats. Getting a second Bachelors and a Masters was not too bad. I then went on to get my PhD at another University and after one year, I had to call it quits. The work required was more demanding, and with an average of only two hours of sleep a night, my life schedule caused my health to deteriorate to the point where I was close to dying.
One of the differences between studying French on cassette tapes and studying a course online is that with cassette tapes I could listen to them while driving, walking, running, anywhere where I could take my tape player. However, with distance learning through the Internet, I need a computer or smartphone. With distance learning today, at least for me, it is easy to sit and work, and work, and work. Additionally, with distance learning today there are timelines to meet whereas with cassette tape distance learning, I did not have to adhere to a time schedule.
Looking back at the French course and the courses online today, I would have to say that the French course was more self-study than Simonson, Smaldino & Zvacek’s, (2015), definition of distance learning. With the French course, there was no accreditation or institutionally based school, there really was not a teacher there for me (send me the answers and I could grade myself), I believe there was a grader but not a teacher; there was no interaction between student and teacher other than a few notes scribbled on my returned and graded workbook. Today’s distance education involves more than just tapes and workbooks. It encompasses all four of Somonson, Smaldino & Zvacek’s components defining distance education (2015).
As to what does the future hold, I believe that technology is taking us to virtual classrooms where we will be able to use Virtual Reality (VR) to explore and experiment in virtual worlds. The benefits of VR is that the students can experience “real” life (Wesley, 2018). Using VR, a student can get an idea of what it was like to live in ancient Greece in ways that textbooks and videos cannot (Ribeiro, n.d.). VR can also inculcate into the students a sense of empathy as in the bubonic plague, the Holocaust and the rigorous lives of the early American pioneers. Using VR will give the students a deeper and wiser perspective on these events that they cannot get by simply reading a textbook or researching it on the Internet. VR is the next logical step in our educational advancement. Although we have the technology to implement VR in the classroom at this time, we are still in the infancy stage but we will eventually get there (Heick, 2018).
Heick, T. (26 February 2018). Why Virtual Reality Is So Important For Education. Teachthought. Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/what-is-virtual-reality/
Ribeiro, C. (n.d.). Is a Virtual Education the Future for K-12 Students? The Virtual High School. Retrieved from http://www.vhslearning.org/virtual-education-future-k-12-students
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. (pp. 32-33)