Teaching in Distributed Learning Environments

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Teaching in Distributed Learning Environments

Teaching in Distributed Learning (DL)

There are many terms used to describe learning online. The American Council on Education (2002)  provides a thorough conversation on the topic:

What do we mean by “distance education,” “e-learning,” or “distributed learning”? Does it occur at a distance? Is it synchronous? Asynchronous? Is it an extension of the classroom or a replacement of it?

Distributed learning can occur either on or off campus, providing students with greater flexibility and eliminating time as a barrier to learning.

Distance learning is a subset of distributed learning, focusing on students who may be separated in time and space from their peers and the instructor.

A common feature of both distance and distributed learning is technology. Regardless of whether students are on campus or online, there are many implications of integrating technology into education, i.e., in making learning distributed.

Distributed learning is much more than an online substitute for lectures. Distributed learning extends the opportunities for interaction between faculty and student, incorporating simulations and visualizations, as well as collaborative learning. In fact, the “anytime, anyplace” nature of this new set of electronic educational opportunities may well have its greatest impact on residential education. Not only does distributed learning occur anywhere and at any time, but these conditions can be modified along a number of dimensions.

Realities and Caveats

All faculty need to prepare for a new and future generations of learners who grew up using technologies in all aspects of their lives.  Many studies have found when students and their faculty were asked about technology use in the classrooms, their perceptions were vastly different.  This is a widening gap between the perceptions of what faculty and students believe is or is not happening in the classroom and necessitates that faculty understand technologies and their implementation in educational environments even deeper than ever before.

Instructor Readiness

How do I know I have the needed expectations and skills to teach online?

Learning to teach in a distributed environment  is a process unique from teaching face to face. It requires different methods, communication avenues, and skills. It is expected tha faculty  prepare for the for the distributed environment by learning the tools and techniques associated with this teaching method.

Many faculty members are surprised by what teaching in a distributed learning environment entails, what skills are needed, and how it differs from face to face instruction. With this in mind, understanding what distributed learning is and how it works is vital to getting started.

Penn State has a  self-assessment  tool to help faculty set expectations and assess their prerequisite skills for teaching in a distributed environment. You will need to enter your email to receive the results.