Celebrating National Distance Learning Week

Word Cloud with words pertinent to Distance Learning, online learning and MOOCs

In celebration of National Distance Learning Week, let’s take a brief look at the history of distance learning and the emergence of MOOCs. Distance learning is a method of providing education and instruction, typically on an individual basis to students in a non-traditional setting. That is students not present in a traditional setting like a classroom, but students that may have restrictions in term of time, distance or both time and distance.

The term distance learning covers a huge spectrum. Many people think of distance learning as something relatively new, but in truth it’s been around for a long time. An example of which is the time honored correspondence course. One of the earliest attempts was advertised in 1728 in the Boston Gazette for “Caleb Philipps, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand,” who sought students who wanted learn through weekly mailed lessons.[1] The notion of correspondence course continued to gain both popularity and acceptance through-out the early 1800s. In 1858, the University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees.

The concept of extended education, or satellite colleges of education in the community was implemented by William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago in the late 1800s. At this time, the International, Correspondence Schools grew explosively as well. The ICS was originally founded to provide training for immigrant coal miners who wanted to improve their circumstances by becoming state mine inspectors or foremen. Education was a high priority, and the number and scope of correspondence schools continued to grow throughout the early 1900s. In 1920l only a third of the American population lived in cities of 100,000 or more; in order to provide access to learning, correspondence techniques had to be adopted.

Distance learning became and continues to be practiced internationally to allow students the opportunity to study in a respectable learning alternative to the traditional for of education. It has continued to grow and change in order to meet the needs and the technologies of the time. Distance Learning classes today come in a variety of modes of delivery. One type of delivery is the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course.  MOOCs are designed to allow unlimited participation and open access via the Internet. They can utilize many of the same course materials that are contained in traditional brick and mortar classes. In addition to course activities like filmed lectures, course readings, problem solving; they also provide discussion boards where students, professors and guest lecturers can add depth and breadth to the course.

The quality and quantity of MOOCs has improved over the years. Access to free courses have allowed individuals the ability to pursue life-long learning and obtain a level of education that they could previously only dream of.

The onus of study is on the student; since a MOOC is voluntary and there is no penalty for dropping the program or lagging behind, the student may not have sufficient motivation or discipline required to complete the course. For those who have the motivation, believe in life-long learning and desire a free education, check out the following sites for MOOCs:

  • FutureLearn – a private company wholly owned by The Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education.  FutureLearn offers a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.  They believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.  They have 57 partners from around the world. These include many of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, such as the British Council, the British Library, the British Museum, and the National Film and Television School.  They also work with a range of internationally renowned organizations – from professional bodies such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), to businesses like the BBC and Marks & Spencer, to the UK Government.
  • Udemy Free Courses – Udemy is an example of a site allows anyone to build or take online courses.  Udemy’s site exclaims, “Our goal is to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world’s experts.” The New York Times reported that Udemy, “recently announced a new Faculty Project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and Northwestern offer free online courses. Its co-founder, Gagen Biyani, said the site has more than 100,000 students enrolled in its courses, including several, outside the Faculty Project, that charge fees.”
  • ITunesU Free Courses – Apple’s free app “gives students access to all the materials for courses in a single place. Right in the app, they can play video or audio lectures. Read books and view presentations.”
  • Harvard Free Courses – From Computer Science to Shakespeare, students may now get a free Harvard education. “Take a class for professional development, enrichment, and degree credit. Courses run in the fall, spring, or intensive January session. No application is required.”
  • Yale Free Courses – At Open Yale, the school offers “free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.”

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distance_education

Connie Pilato

Connie Pilato

Connie Pilato is the Academic Technology Support Specialist for Jamestown Community College, and has more than 20 years providing technology support in various roles at the college. While her primary assignment is to support the faculty of the Cattaraugus County Campus, she is available to assist both full-time and adjunct faculty regardless of their campus location.

Among her significant previous positions, Connie served as Network Design Engineer/Central Office Equipment, and Network Design Engineer/Special Circuits at ALLTEL, a telecommunications company.

Connie holds a M.S. in Curriculum Design and Instructional Technology from University of Albany – SUNY, and a B.S. in Business (Magna Cum Laude) from SUNY Fredonia.

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