The three distance learning theories chosen were:
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- Wedemeyer theory (American Theory of Independent Study)
- Moore’s Theory of Distance Education (European Theory of Independent Study)
- Equivalency Theory
|All theories are focused on the need for responsibility in self-study due to the autonomous nature of distance learning.|
|Emphasized the need to utilize new technologies and techniques to improve the experience of distance learning education (Li-Fen, 2006).|
|Stated the independence of the teacher from the main learning process.|
|Wedemeyer, Moore and the Equivalency theory all stated that the main advantage of this method is that students get to study at the pace that best suits them.|
|Equivalency theory and Moore’s theory of distance education both accept the fact that distance learners have fundamentally different environments to learn in and, as such, educators need to adjust the programs to better suit the needs of the student (Gueldenzoph, 2003).|
|Moore’s theory focused on the program adjusting itself to develop into a specific distance learning program for a school while Wedemeyer focused primarily on the capacity of the students for self-study regardless of the type of distance learning program implemented (Mallon, 2012).|
|Equivalency theory stated that distance learning is equivalent but not equal to traditional learning while Moore and Wedemeyer considered it potentially equal but dependent on the ability of the student to learn independent of direct observation (Carnwell, 2000).|
|Moore considered distance learning to be autonomous (student-driven) or non-autonomous (teacher driven) while Wedemeyer did not place a specific distinction (Simpson, 2008).|
|Equivalency theory focuses on creating an individually unique learning experience that suits students while Moore’s theory of distance education instead of generalizes the type of distance learning method that is applied. For Moore, it is more about developing a specific type of distance education curriculum for an educational institution while Equivalency theory focuses more on individual students (Benson and Samarawickrema, 2009).|
|Applicability for use in the examination: all theories that have been stated show the relevant level of applicability in present-day education, but it is the equivalency theory and Moore’s theory on distance learning that seem to be the most appropriate to examine present-day methods of distance learning.|
Distance learning theories, at their core, focus on the concept of independent student learning in the face of a lack of direct teacher interaction. Unlike traditional classroom environments where the teacher was the “active” element that transmitted knowledge and the student was the “passive” factor that accepted it, distance-learning places greater responsibility on student autonomy in the learning process.
Roles are reversed in this case where students take a more active role in educating themselves based on the source material while teachers take on a more passive role as individuals who guide the students towards the areas they need to focus on. In this paper, an analysis will be conducted regarding the impact of distance learning theory on formal and informal distance learning communities. Through this analysis, a better understanding of distance learning theory will be developed based on how it facilitates success on different methods of learning.
Difference between Formal and Informal Learning?
Formal learning is based on a systematic methodology that utilizes a predetermined curriculum that is meant to progress students on particular lessons and courses. It is an intentional method of learning that focuses on the establishment of a foundation of basic knowledge on concepts and information and builds upon this to create a more advanced state of educational attainment. One of the best examples of this in action can be seen in the grading system that many students progress in during their school experiences (ex: Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3).
Information, skills, and knowledge from one grade are built upon in the next class based on a predetermined educational path that has a planned outcome. Informal learning, on the other hand, differs significantly from its formal counterpart since it does not have a predetermined outcome. Instead, it is a means by which a student learns from experience and is considered as a form of learning via knowledge creation as compared to formal learning which is considered as a method of language acquisition. Examples of informal education in action can be seen via the various advice threads on Reddit.com where people give and accept opinions on a broad range of different topics.
Analyzing the Impact of Distance Learning Theory on Formal and Informal Learning Communities
For this paper, the subjects that will be examined will be Coursera.com and Reddit.com. These learning communities were chosen since they are some of the best examples of distance learning in practice in the current digital age. Coursera is an online digital platform that gives students access to a wide variety of different formal distance education modules that have been sponsored by various universities. Reddit.com is a networking service site that allows users to submit posts, guides and a wide variety of different content on subjects ranging from current events to recipes. The site acts as a medium where people can give and share ideas and is one of the best examples of informal learning on the internet.
- Subject Matter: Focuses primarily on academic content on a broad range of different subjects. The site acts as a formalized online distance learning portal that enables students from all over the world access to academic resources and advice that they otherwise would not have been able to acquire locally.
- Delivery Method: The primary delivery method is via the internet with online academic advisers formalizing the lessons and monitoring the interactions of the students via the message boards. Students are evaluated based on submitted papers, quizzes and other methods of communication deemed necessary by the advisor.
- Target Audience: The primary target audience of Coursera are individuals looking to expand their skills but do not have the time or access to the necessary resources to do so.
- Subject Matter: Consists of a vast array of general topics depending on what is currently trending on that particular day. Information can range from personal experiences to examinations of current issues that are socially relevant.
- Delivery Method: The delivery methods consist of topic threads that any user can comment on.
- Target Audience: The target audience is not specific and can include a vast array of potential online users from any country.
Application of Distance Learning Theory Directly/Indirectly on Each Type of Learning Community
Despite their different formats and content, Coursera and Reddit follow several of the aspects detailed in Moore’s theory of distance education (also known as the European Theory of Independent Study). Moore stated that distance learning programs can be classified into two distinct categories, namely those that are autonomous which makes them “learner-determined” or those that are non-autonomous orients them as “teacher-determined.”
Coursera is clearly “teacher-determined” since the individual courses that are available on the site follow a curriculum that has been set by a teacher with every single student monitored for competency-based on essays, quizzes and other methods of examining the information that they have learned. Reddit, on the other hand, is more “learner-determined” since there is no prescribed manner in which the information that is presented on the site is meant to be internalized. Learners internalize the information and discuss particular topics and concepts via contributing to the topic thread that they have developed an interest in.
It is the back-and-forth discussion over specific ideas and arguments that form the basis of the learning experience for an online contributor to the site. There is no end goal to the sharing of information; rather, information is given and exchanged due to the inherent desire for discussion and the need to learn more. Through the teacher-oriented method of autonomous learning, Coursera has been able to educate thousands of students from across the world utilizing the internet as the medium by which they participate in the distance learning initiative. This has contributed immensely towards the distribution of knowledge as well as the popularization of alternative methods of education.
The same can be said about distance learning and Reddit wherein the online community on the site has become a social focal point with many of the ideas, topics, and discussions developing on the site spilling over into mainstream media due to their relevancy and the subsequent popularization of ideas and arguments by individuals that would normally not be able to have such a level of global reach.
Benson, R., & Samarawickrema, G. (2009). Addressing the context of e-learning: using transactional distance theory to inform design. Distance Education, 30(1), 5-21. Web.
Carnwell, R. (2000). Approaches to Study and their Impact on the Need for Support and Guidance in Distance Learning. Open Learning, 15(2), 123-140. Web.
Gueldenzoph, L. E. (2003). The Integration of Constructivist Theory and Socialization to Distance (Online) Learning. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 45(3), 173-182. Web.
Li-Fen, L. (2006). A Flow Theory Perspective on Learner Motivation and Behavior in Distance Education. Distance Education, 27(1), 45-62. Web.
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Mallon, M. (2012). The New Distance Learners: Providing Customized Online Research Assistance to Urban Students on the Go. Urban Library Journal, 18(1), 1-14. Web.
Simpson, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support?. Open Learning, 23(3), 159-170. Web.