Even though some semblance of distance learning has been around for some time (mail and television correspondence courses), in many circles it is still perceived as a new-kid-on-the-block whose effectiveness has not been proven tried and true. It is, however, a force to be reckoned with because of the value it holds for the stakeholders involved. For students it offers a convenience and flexibility without which they may have been barred from study in a traditional setting. The distance learning option has economic implications for institutions and may allow them to cut overhead costs. That said, distance learning doesn’t currently enjoy an entirely favorable reputation but I predict that in 10 to 20 years it will be fully assimilated into society and will be de-stigmatized. I think Instructional designers play a pivotal role in bringing about this change and should consider it a personal mission to an impetus for continuous improvement in the field of distance education.
Even if it only took a few years to integrate the technology needed to facilitate distance learning into every institution, it would likely take a few more years to get everyone on board with its implementation. This would take more than just installing hardware and software and the like, this would require getting buy-in from key people who would be willing to sing the praises of distance education. It would require these change agents making cases for the merits of distance education. I think this sort of momentum is in the works now and in the near future distance education will be looked upon as equivalent to traditional education.
Instructional designers can help fuel this momentum by being very transparent about what it takes to produce effective distance education experiences. Wherever possible, we need to get the message across that distance education is not simply traditional classroom content dumped into an online container but that it is the product of processes and analyses aimed at providing the learner with a meaningful educative experience.
I plan to be a positive force for continuous improvement by seizing every teachable moment and illustrating the difference that great distance instructional design makes. I plan to add my voice to those who advocate for implementing distance learning options and proudly proclaim that I received my quality education from a respected and accredited institution—via an online distance program!