Thursday, December 03, 2009

How does distance learning, social networking, and other new media enrich your life?

I was recently asked the question, "How does distance learning, social networking, and other new media enrich your life … your career?" and here was my reply:

I define distance learning as any method of teaching and learning that is not dependent on a geographic location. Therefore, most of our world is falling into this category and enriching our lives in one way or another. Online banking, shopping, music, education, etc...The distance technologies enable us to prioritize our lives around the things that matter most to us, such as our families, friends, community, and organizations we are passionate about. Distance technologies facilitate a brand new form of asynchronous communication that enables us to prioritize and schedule our lives more effectively. This is a major reason why distance learning in higher education has spread like wildfire and continues to grow. It's not that online learning is easier or of lower quality (see research), it is that formal education can now revolve around a person's life rather than the other way around. It's only the next natural step. I have seen the growth and increased demand of distance education at BGSU first hand and am very excited about BGSU being chosen by the Ohio Board of Regents as a Center of Excellence for E-learning in the State of Ohio. E-learning doesn't replace face to face universities but enhances them by meeting the new needs of a new generation of students, both young and old.

Let's change gears and look at facebook and twitter as two distance technologies that are changing the world around us. Twitter allows me to get news and information from the people and organizations that interest me the most. Therefore, by subscribing to various twitter feeds, I can get the latest deals from amazon, stay on top of the latest technologies from apple, google, and other tech companies, and get words of inspiration from my pastor or other pastors I listen to online throughout the day. This is awesome. I am also able to re-tweet those to my community of followers, and they, their followers. You see how information is exploding there? With facebook, I am able to "keep in touch" with hundreds of friends at a distance. For example, this enables me to see pictures of my niece and nephews right after they were taken, which prompts me to comment on them or call them. You see how this technology interrupts our lives, but can do so in a positive way. Ever wonder what happened to your old high school buddies? With facebook, you can stay in touch with them on a surface level so that if your relationship with them ever re-surfaces when you run into them in person, you will have much to talk about and build on. The technology is not meant to replace relationships, but if used with wisdom, enhance them. RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, Wikipedia, YouTube has greatly impacted my career in that I am able to subscribe to content all over the internet and have it directly imported to my email inbox or RSS reader. This enables me to stay on top of the latest in the field of distance learning as well as contribute to the conversation with my own blog posts or tweets.


morskyjezek said...

I just watched the "Did You Know 4.0" clip and read this post. The whole idea of convergence is interesting, and I find it a bit unsettling. However, I think that you need to make a connection between these two posts: one strength/possibility of social networking media, to me, is really what it can do as a tool in the classroom. I keep in touch with friends and family in many ways, one being a blog, others being telephone and email; however, I don't see these as useful or engaging information to communicate with my students. Sure, any of them can read my twitter feed, but it's only occasionally about class. The interesting thing about convergence and social media to me is that the classroom is becoming a different space, not that learning is occurring geographically-placelessly.

I guess I'm not seeing the connection between your last paragraph and teaching, and I don't really see the replacement with asynchronous online learning of the networked (convergence) classroom as purely positive or unproblematic. I also only have a few colleagues from my discipline who share information in online formats (like twitter). Is 'distance learning' just a way to save money on facilities and boost enrollment?

Terence said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and post a comment. I can see how the idea of social media as a teaching tool can appear confusing without proper clarity about why, how, and when to use a specific social media tool. Social Media enables connections that would otherwise not exist and allows us to leverage those connections for a variety of reasons whether they be social, professional, educational, etc. For example, we may have never had this discussion if not for this blog. Twitter, like other social media platforms, can be used to leverage a community whether it be political, educational, family, etc. I recommend people create a twitter account for each community as my family community won't care too much about my distance learning tweets and vice versa. If you are a subject matter expert in a specific area, you should have a twitter account that is specifically about your subject matter so that people follow you for your aggregation of quality links, resources, and your own ideas. Plus, they can respond to you as Twitter is a two-way street via the @ symbol. In other words, you can separate your online identities based on how you want to leverage those communities. The same idea is true for blogs. People should have a professional blog and a personal blog as the intended audiences are usually different. The blog enables a global discussion that would not have been possible in the past and I see that as very beneficial within the educational system. At our university, we enable faculty, staff, and students to create as many blogs as they want. To answer your question "Is 'distance learning' just a way to save money on facilities and boost enrollment?" I would have to reply with a resounding no. In fact, distance learning enables a higher level of quality control that was not possible in years past as all content and interaction within an online classroom is documented and archived. Distance learning technologies actually lends itself to improving traditional education and I believe we will see more and more blended courses and programs. When the printing press came to be, it was met with similar resistance in that people thought surely books would replace the need for the spoken word. The internet is a communication revolution in the digital age and will be used to enhance education. Naturally distance education is a trail blazing field in whole of education as distance educators continually look for ways to leverage the internet for educational purposes.

morskyjezek said...

Thanks for the response! Separate accounts, blogs, screennames seem like a good idea.

I find that the interesting thing about technology, information-based and otherwise, is that people use it in ways that work for them in a way that might work in a given situation, which is often different than the use intended for developers. (E.g., Edison envisioned the phonograph as a way to preserve the voices of loved ones and not an instrument of music per se, which its descendants have now become.)

By the way, I came to your blog as a participant in the BG Best Practices for Teaching Online course, so I'll point out our discussion to the class.

Terence said...

I agree with your observation that people use technology in ways that work for them in a given situation, which may not have been the intended use of the developer. Your example of the phonograph demonstrates this well. I also think this quote by Bill Gates in 1993 applies, "The Internet? We are not interested in it." That is pretty funny to read nowadays. However, so as to not just bash the guy, I do agree with this quote of his and it applies to our conversation, “If you give people tools, [and they use] their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.” One reason I think the internet is such a powerful educational and organizational platform is because people are exploring new ways to use it every day to enhance connections,leverage knowledge, share ideas, and create solutions. In my opinion, Universities should be leading the charge on this front, and some are doing just that. However,there are many more wasting time debating ideas like the merits of print-based books verses e-books and whether or not people can learn via the internet verses physically sitting at a desk in a classroom. I'm not saying people shouldn't discuss those issues, but not for 10 more years. Here is a neat example of how Google is leveraging peoples' ideas via the internet to try and solve some of the most complex problems that face our world today.

I think Universities could do similar projects. We are just now seeing the tip of the iceberg.

sartaj faisal said...


Great information in this post and I think this is a major reason why distance learning in higher education has spread like wildfire and continues to grow.

James Parker.
Web design Firm

Adel said...

Sehr interessanten Beitrag. Ich verfolge meine Herren durch Fernstudium. Es ist sehr viel Improvisation und hilfreich für mich, denn ich bin eine berufstätige Person. Es gibt auch verschiedene Kurse für die Leichtigkeit des Aspiranten angeboten.


From your convergence I found a new technology and idea about this,for which i really feel very much satisfying.Wait for your next updating.Don't forget to share it.I wait for your feed back.

Unknown said...

Great Post & great Information
and I would like to say thanks for sharing it with us.


distance learning

jsimpson121 said...

I never considered looking at an online university for my undergraduate studies. It ended up being the best decision I ever made.

Thomas Kröll said...

Twitter and Facebook may help, but I do not believe these are productive learning tools. I believe customised online learning applications are more beneficial for creating engaging learning platforms. These platforms can then allow social networking with fellow students, while lecturers can monitor progress of the learner.

Distance Learning South Africa