Distance Education: How can colleges and universities outpace the challenges and evolve?


Distance education has seen tremendous growth in the past decade and forecast for future growth is on the horizon. Colleges and universities are recording surges in enrollment due to this trend that offers nontraditional students opportunities to advance their education around times conducive to their busy lifestyles. However, the onslaught of activity in enrollment has brought with it challenges in teaching and learning. A debate centered around what type of changes must occur in instructional design in order for distance education to evolve to meet the demands of the next generation in higher education, K-12 and training has heated up. Weighing in on the conversation is Dr. Michael Simonson who discusses what must be done for the innovation to meet critical mass while Moller, Huett, and Coleman discuss current trends, both positive and negative.

The moderate gains in distance education in training and K-12 education may be on trend; therefore, the push for swift transformation in these areas seem unwarranted. However, in higher education, online schools, programs, etc., seem to surface each day. In fact, Huett et. al reported that the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) “calls distance education a ‘mainstream’ educational delivery method” and predicted that in the next five years more than a 300% increase in students will be served. Huett et al’s (2008) argued that as colleges and universities leap into distance education, oftentimes the jump lands faculty in ill-prepared territory because they have no formal training in developing curriculum and instruction in online environments. This leaves faculty modifying their current teaching methods for the traditional classroom to fit the distance education environment. Coined the “craft approach” Simonson (2008) asserted that this type of teaching, duplicating education practiced at a distance to face-to-face education , should not be done, rather follow different guidelines because they are fundamentally different. To this end, I agree that courses designed for distance education in higher education should first begin with training faculty to develop content top down, making full use of technology. Faculty must be trained to think differently, rethinking what it means “to know.” Huett et al (2008) explained that faculty may also be required to learn new skill sets, new ways to communicate, and new time management skills. In this way, as faculty evolve, distance education will be in step with the next generation.

That’s my take, Linette

Follow these links to read Part I, II, and III of Huett et al’s articles and view Simonson video.

Part I


Part II


Part III



Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W. & Coleman, C. (2008, September/October). The evolution of

distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part

3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Principles of distance education: Distance education: The next

generation. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008, May/June). The evolution of distance education:

Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 1: Training and

Development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008, July/August). The evolution of distance education:

Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 2: Higher

Education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66–70.


2 thoughts on “Distance Education: How can colleges and universities outpace the challenges and evolve?

  1. Linette
    A point you highlighted in your blog was key for me during this module: learning environments are different. Perhaps educators want to replicate the face-to-face because it is what they know. As we learn more and more about online learning, we will better equipped to design and impart courses online.

  2. Hi Linette,
    You make a great point that faculty need to be trained on course development. This is why the role of the instructional designer is important. This is exactly the type of person who can provide this level of training and provide support to the faculty during the development process. I think it is very interesting that even our face-to-face course are still using practices that we know are not really affective. This is why I think the evolution is larger than just distance learning. However, distance education just might be that first big step to really improving education across the board.

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