Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
The general trend in distance learning is to more students taking distance learning classes and more classes being offered as distance learning classes. What are some of the directions that distance learning is taking to create this trend? There are several current directions that distance learning is taking that motivate students to take distance learning courses. At the same time instructors can use these developments to make it easier to create the courses and to help motivate their students.
The advancements in games and simulations have increased their usefulness as learning tools because they can be used for teaching more complex topics in an interactive and more realistic way. The use of 3D contributes greatly to those benefits. These games and simulations inspire learners to have fun while they are learning involved processes. They are realistic but they involve less risk to real businesses or patients or one’s own self-esteem while learning the skills. When mistakes are made the business will not lose money, a patient will not suffer harm, and the learner can just keep repeating the process until they are successful. These learning tools are also more affordable for schools, institutions, and corporations than having the learners travel to other places to receive the training and having to set up the situations with real people each time.
Cloud computing is contributing to new directions in distance learning since it greatly facilitates group work on projects. All the students in a group can add to or change documents the group is working on in applications such as Google Docs. Teachers and students can use calendars such as Google Calendar or Yahoo Calendar to show everyone involved in the group or class what is happening and when. A presentation by a group that will be available on a given date can be a reminder for the group when they must have their work completed as well as informing other students when it will be available for them to view. Mind maps can be used for a group to brainstorm or as an outline of their project so that everyone knows where they are heading. These are just a few ways that cloud computing can be used in distance learning but this new way of using computers is certainly valuable for increasing interaction between both teachers and students.
Informal learning is becoming more prevalent in the distance learning field. In business, corporations often have locations around the world, and they frequently need immediate answers to problems. Therefore there isn’t always enough time to teach an employee how to solve a problem through a course. The employee can however use his/her network or the corporation’s network to find the answer very quickly online, thus learning what is needed at a distance but very efficiently. The use of social media to do this same thing in those corporations or in smaller companies and even just on an individual basis is a common occurrence today and increasing in frequency all the time.
Use of open source software has become widespread in distance learning. MIT is one of several institutions that has made university courses available free online. There are several open source learning management systems such as Moodle and ATutor that can be used by institutions and organizations to manage the learning content in courses. Web 2.0, like cloud computing, has brought about much more interaction in distance learning programmes through the use of tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and discussion forums. These tools are also allowing the students themselves to contribute to and develop the learning in the classroom, thus making it two–way instead of just teacher created learning.
Most of these directions in distance learning are making it easier and more interesting to learn the required knowledge and skills, while many times also decreasing the cost of the learning. Thus it is easy to see why these new developments are helping to create the trend to increased interest in distance education on the part of students and teachers.