George Siemens (Laureate, 2008) attributes the increasing success and acceptance of Distance Education to Global Diversity, Communication, and Interactive Collaboration. He argues that such an accomplishment is grounded on “the increase in online communication, practical experience with new tools, growing comfort with online discourse, and the ability to communicate with diverse and global groups”. Distance Education has come from a long way to become today a key driver in Teaching and Learning in general and Higher Education in particular. Simonson (Laureate, 2008) praises Distance Education as an efficient mean to meet the challenges and shortcomings of academic and corporate institutions from a logistical, academic and cost effectiveness perspectives. An interesting article by Jessica Shepherd published on March 10th, 2013 (Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/mar/11/uk-universities-threat-online-courses) under the title “UK universities face threat from online courses and for-profit colleges” warns of the stiff competition traditional face to face institutions are facing from Online Education. It seems increasingly safe to stress that Distance Learning is to Education what ATM technology is to the Banking Industry. To some extent, one may wonder if ATM Banking has not paved the road to our incremental disposition to welcome technology in our private life, including learning. The influencing paradigm seems to be: If we can trust the machine with our money in the bank, why not with other endeavors.
Indeed, global diversity plays a major role in the evolution of Distance Education. The global website of Siemens Corporation (Retrieved from http://www.siemens.com/sustainability/pool/cr-framework/diversity_guidelines_e.pdf, March 26th, 213) argues that “Diversity is an invaluable source of talent, creativity and experience.” The site further proposes that “Diversity improves competitiveness by enlarging the potential for ideas and innovation” In addition, Siemens Corporation posits that “Diverse teams addressing problems from varied perspectives will be more productive and achieve better solutions”. Communication also plays a critical role in the evolution and growing acceptance of Distance Education. Without the means of effective communication, synchronously or a synchronously, there would be no such idea or dream as Distance Learning. Saettler (2004) informs us that “the convergence of communication and educational technology did not occur until the 1950’s despite the significant implications of communication theory and research”. The current state of communication, from the internet, web. 2.0 technologies, to cellular telephony, does favor the rapid development of Distance Education. While global diversity and communication remain essential elements of Distance Learning, I am convinced that Interactive Collaboration stands out as the most significant ingredient in the Distance Education recipe. Palloff and Pratt (2007) focus on “the importance of collaboration in facilitating the development of a learning community in achieving the desired learning outcomes for the course” (p. 157). Collaboration enables effective learning to occur via effective interaction between learners and between the instructor and learners. According to Palloff and Pratt (2005), Interactive Collaboration in Distance Education has evolved in two distinct waves. The first one relates to the experimentation of the “early adopters” who forcefully try to port their teachings to the online forum. The second and last wave “is concerned with best practices and improving both interaction and interactivity in online courses” (Palloff & Pratt, 2005, p. 3).
There are currently many tools available to implement or promote collaboration in Distance Education. Blackboard Collaborate™ is advertised as offering “a more collaborative, interactive, and mobile learning experience that constantly evolves, and you’ll keep everyone engaged like never before” (Retrieved from http://www.blackboard.com/platforms/collaborate/overview.aspx ). Other tools include Skype (Retrieved from http://www.skype.com/en/), Google Groups (Retrieved from https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!overview ), Google Docs (Retrieved from https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin), wikis (Retrieved from www.wikispaces.com), brainstorming (Retrieved from www.mindmeister.com, video chatting (retrieved from www.oovoo.com) and other types of software such as those on Video Collaboration, Documents Sharing, and Files Storing (Retrieved from http://www.scholarshipexperts.com/college-life/collaboration-tools-for-students/ ).
Nevertheless, the topic of collaboration in Distance Education has captured the attention of many educators who have dedicated specific blogs to the issue. In “Community and Collaborative Learning”, Blogger Barbara reports a conversation with a girl from Kenya during which they talked about the difference between the community life in Kenya and the individualistic one in the United States (retrieved from http://www.dashe.com/blog/social-learning/community-and-collaborative-learning/ ). As an Instructional Designer, the author dragged the community comparison issue to the teaching and learning arena on collaborative learning. The blog offers practical illustrations in support of collaboration in Distance Education. Another blog, Distance Education: Collaborative Interaction (retrieved from http://lukebilger.blogspot.com/2011/12/distance-education-collaborative.html ) by Luke Bilger also acknowledges the value of collaboration as an essential element in Distance Education. Rightly, Bilger argues that “Students should have the skills to collaborate before college or the job place. Students should also collaborate and share ideas outside of their immediate environment”.
Palloff P & K. Pratt (2007). Building online learning Communities.. John Wiley and Sons Inc. San Francisco, California.
Palloff P & K. Pratt (2005). Building online learning Communities.. John Wiley and Sons Inc. San Francisco, California.
Satttler P. (2004). The Evolution of American Educational Technology. Information Age Publishing Inc.Greenwich, Connecticut
Simonson, M. (2000). Making Decisions: The Use of Electronic Technology in Online Classrooms. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, (84), 29.
This author has commented on the following blogs on Global Diversity, Communication, and Collaboration:
- Roberts, Alicia: http://msaroberts2003.blogspot.com/
- Smith, John : http://teachinglearningatadistance.blogspot.com/
- Smith, Margaret: http://emmi143.blogspot.com/