Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Evolution of Distance Education—Major Milestone(s)

The readings for this week provide different lenses through which to examine the landscape of DE. The DE at a Glance Home gives a good overview of the field of DE in general, the Saba reading takes a look in more depth at the US scene and the Canadian reading focuses on the Canadian scene. In addition, the Interactive DE Timeline zooms in on the history of DE in SK and the DVD focuses on the history of televised instruction in SK.

Having read the readings assigned for this week you are probably feeling quite exhausted by the evolution of DE globally, in US, in Canada, and in SK. What evolutionary DE milestone do you consider to be particularly significant and why? Also, please comment on any DE milestones that you have experienced.

After you have time to read and digest the readings for this week, please post your comments to this BLOG. Again, if you’re first to post you only have to read our post—at least initially. Please read all the posts before you post your comment and, where possible and appropriate, comment on what others in the class have written on this topic, as well as referring to the readings for the week.


  1. Since education is a socializing institution, it is inevitable that industrialization, a major societal influence, was bound to reshape it. DL was born to drive industry training, whether in agriculture, the case for early Canada; or business in the modern corporate world. Clearly, the industrial revolution or “Neo-Fordism" as Peters calls it, has impacted North American distance education, both in content as well as economics. The mail service provided the early vehicle for delivery (no pun intended) and I always considered that my introduction to DL - until I read the Saba article which made me realize my first encounter with DL was the PBS milestone, Sesame Street – thank you, Telstar. I was 4 years old when it premiered in 1969 and I remember those days and learnings vividly. My twin and I knew our alphabet and were reading before grade one – the only ones in the family to do so, a feat my mother credits entirely to Sesame Street. When I started Kindergarten a year later, I was horrified that I would miss that program. Fortunately, my kindergarten teacher was a progressive pioneer who incorporated this program into our day, a brilliant, brave and completely forgotten gesture. I took for granted the use of educational video and television programming when I began teaching, just as we now take for granted the World Wide Web – a major milestone for the current DL models and blended instructional methods. YouTube and the internet have made video/dvd obsolete in terms of educational programming, just as e-conferencing has replaced telephone conferencing and email has replaced the postal service. I was surprised to learn from the readings that Canada has been such a leader in DL – first with the contributions of Athabasca University a uni-modal institution, and also with the pioneering of “real time” teaching at Memorial University. Finally, from a provincial perspective, I guess it is a reflection of the business driven nature of DL and the broad scope appeal of DL, to see that SCN created in 1994 by the provincial government primarily as a resource for Sask. educators was sold to Blue Point Investments, an Ontario company, in June 2010. It will be interesting to see how its programming reflects its new national business mission.

  2. I agree with Kelley that educational programming is a very important and often over looked form of distance education. Sesame Street continues to provide preschoolers with an important introduction to early literacy and numeracy skills. In fact, my three year old is watching it right now. The range of educational television and other media has greatly expanded over the years, to reach a generation of youth whose whole lives will be greatly influenced by technology.

    The creation of the World Wide Web and subsequent technological advancements has made a great impact on the field of distance education. These advancements allow students to work through course work asynchronously and receive more timely feedback on their work. Students are also able to connect in synchronous courses almost as though they were in a traditional classroom setting.

    Although advancements in DE linked to computers have had a significant impact, after completing this week’s readings I feel that an earlier milestone in DE has also had an important impact. The creation of Open Universities took DE to another level. The industrialized production of education allowed several individuals to access post-secondary education that may previously have been excluded because of cost, distance or scheduling. The creation of Open Universities or uni-modal universities in Canada and all over the world continue to educate large numbers of students using the DE model.

  3. What are the major milestones in the evolution of DE? It was interesting to see the similarity of the timelines in the readings. I start to think that competition likely plays a role in it. If one university has something cutting edge and new, the rest better get on board. Enrollment may depend on it. Perhaps this is why you see many similarities in time lines? Post secondary institutions across Canada, and in North America are always looking to stay ahead of the competition. Yes, there is competition. Enrollment and tuition I assume are a major contributor the sustainability and growth of an institution. Distance Education formed and evolved to allow all students the chance to learn and grow. I truly believe this is why DE is what it is today, however part of me always connects things back to the almighty dollar.

    When you ask what the motivation is behind the innovation of single mode universities, downer me can’t get past the money. Obviously there is major cost to this mode to start up and grow your enrollment. I wonder what a university can save when there are not any buildings to maintain?

    There are many milestones that brought DE to where it is today. Radio and Television moved us all into phase two. The introduction of televised university communication in the 80’s likely gave distance education a face. I personally believe the greatest milestone from a provincial perspective began back in the 1914 with the introduction of the Better Farming Train. Talk about cutting edge. One could only imagine the amount of work that went into making that program happen. Farming and education hand in hand. Saba would argue that is still the case with agrarian-based academic calendars! One can argue that every milestone is just as significant as the next or last. As Amy mentioned, modern technology (i.e., computers) has had a major impact but one cannot overlook earlier milestones. From correspondence courses, to educational radio/television, to the telecommunications revolution, all milestones needed to happen to get us to where we are today.

  4. I got a better understanding about the landscape of DE after my reading. I believe that the basic reason of DE existing is that people have high demands of information exchange but with time and locations limitations. From the readings, I see the development DE is a procedure of fulfilling this demand and each DE milestone actually represents a technology highlight of that period, rather than a business driven as Kelley mentioned above or money driven as Brian mentioned.

    According to Saba, DE experienced different formats which coincide with the information delivery technology during that period. Correspondence Education heavily depended on print technology and Postal service. Educational Radio and Television depended on Broadcasting and TV technology, while the PBS depended on telecommunications Revolution. WWW depends on the appearance and development of the Internet. Each new technology has brought in a faster, much more better method of delivering information to the society.

    The hierarchical system of DE shows me that DE consists of many interrelated parts. The nested systems support each other and are supported by each other. Technology is a power to excel the development of the whole system by service better for the whole system, and renovation technology itself at the same time by improving the former technology or generate a new technology. For example, the WWW technology only is the most advanced technology so far, but not the final one. WWW DE is not the final format either.

  5. I was perhaps a bit old to feel the full benefits of Sesame Street as DE but I did appreciate other milestones of Canadian Educational Programming and I agree with Kelly and Amy when they point to educational television as important distance learning. My early DE instructors were Helene of Chez Helene and Mr. Dress Up.

    Like Brian, I suspect that economics are a driving force behind single mode universities.

    I loved the image of Professors Marwick and Pentz roaring defiance at their peers as the OU made higher level education available to "unqualified students". Breaking the link between exclusivity and excellence is an important step in the democratization of education as achieved through distance - quite literally reaching out.

    The history of SCAN to SCN is a good illustration of how effective televised DE can be. The televised classroom can closely parallel the face to face experience and give the learner a sense of the "shared experience". Brenda and Terri talk about the large numbers of full time off campus degree students which points out the scope of learning possible. It is interesting to note that the majority of people using the service are women.

    I wonder if a weakness in televised distance learning might be the technology - operator errors, equipment failures etc. And is it possible that some learners might not appreciate the "cool medium" of television and feel the loneliness of the long distance runner, sorry, learner.

    My favourite DE historical footnote was that Miss Sheldon-Williams of the Saskatchewan Outpost Correspondence School was apparently willing to differentiate her lesson sheets for the 44 distance learners despite having to do all her own clerical work. Obviously a caring teacher and one who understood the importance of empathy for the student, even one 400 miles away.

  6. I too can remember watching Sesame Street as a kid, but I don't think I ever put together the fact that Sesame Street could be viewed as a distance education course, although after doing the readings this block, I see it now for what it really was. I appreciate the fact that the creaters were, as Saba (2008) pointed out, trying to reach inner city youth and teach them basic reading and writing skills that these same young people would not have received otherwise.

    When we look at the history of distance education in Saskatchewan, the statement made in the Televised Distance Education video really stood out to me. The video began by saying that Saskatchewan, with its vast geography and dispersed population, has been a training ground for distance education. With the rise of mail service, distance education became available. In a province like Saskatchewan, it only makes sense that to serve the needs of our rural population, distance education was needed. This has given Saskatchewan, and Canada in general, the time and opportunity to develop distance education, which includes distance universities like Athabasca, or the courses offered (well formerly offered) through SCN and the Correspondence School.

    With the advent of technology, the learner demographic is beginning to change for distance education learners. No longer is distance educatino being used by a remote learner to complete high school, or take an agriculture course without leaving the farm. As pointed out by Faille and Umbriaco (1999), the average age of distance learners is dropping, as is the reason for taking distance education courses.

    Although I agree with Jay when he talks about how the history of SCAN and SCN show how effective televised distance education can be, I also pose this question. Is it the fact the distance educatino using the medium of television has been extremely effective, both for SCN courses as well as U of R course? Or, is the fact that in the case of a televised distance education course, it is almost as if the learner were actually present in the classroom, with the ability to communicate directly with the instructor, and not feel like the lone "runner". I wonder if these same learners that were experiencing such success with televised courses would have experienced the same success taking a distance course via mail delivery, or asynchronously?

    One of the milestones on the distance education timeline that I feel needs to be added is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the closure of the Ministry of Education's Technology Supported Learning (TSL) unit, formerly called the Saskatchewan Government Correspondence School. The TSL unit, which delivered correspondence courses to students throughout the province, was closed on July 3, 2009. The official line from the Ministry was that school divisions had more capacity to deliver distance education than the Ministry did, however i wonder how much the almighty dollar had to do with the decision to close the unit.

  7. As you have all mentioned, Sesame Street is the cornerstone of early distance education. I never realized its purposeful design, but I do recall hearing of a study where they would film kids watching the show, pinpoint sketches where the kids would become disinterested and remove those sketches or characters in later showings. That to me shows the level of attention that was put into this mode of “distance learning”. More so, it shows on a grand scale, the work and dedication that is required in the development of a successful distance learning experience.

    I think while television and radio were/are great tools in the sense that they were able to reach a large audience over a great distance, the milestone that changed the game for me was putting courses online. The net made it easier for those people to interact with each other and the material, with greater flexibility in regards to timing. While it is impossible for me to truly know what life was like without radio or television, I can remember a world without the internet, and it still amazes me how quickly it became a staple in people’s day-today lives. To me this is the biggest milestone because not only can you take advantage of the same instructional delivery methods that made the other tools effective...but you can also collaborate...easily and efficiently...a boast that the other milestones cannot make. You can work when and where you are most comfortable, and feedback can be instantaneous.

    On a side note, I found it extremely humorous to see that pioneers in distance education fought the same battles distance educators are today. The Saba article mentioned that early distance educators were told the learning was inadequate because there was no classroom. Online teachers face that same prejudice today, and even some that teach online methods still require that “butt in seat” interaction that comes in the traditional classroom, albeit in non traditional forms (Mandatory synchronous sessions). “Traditional” jobs are changing and some are disappearing we need to look beyond “Traditional” teaching.

  8. Someone once said that we must look backward in order to move forward! The week’s articles surely threw light on the advancement of DE over time. Understanding what DE was like in the past in order to develop it for the future is critical. While I hadn’t heard of Sesame street at the time (which most of you reminisce about), I grew up watching Doordarshan (India’s local National Television Network), that aired puppet shows, educational cartoons and science shows. Since then, television has come a long way in my country. I would have to say it’s probably the most significant phase of the DE timeline. Television has a far reaching and wider audience than the Internet would in the rural areas of India. One reason being the complexity and unavailability of infrastructure needed to support the Internet. SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment), INSAT (Indian National Satellite Project), and IGNOU- Doordarshan Telecast, which came about the same time instructional television was introduced to North American Schools (p.10, Saba), are just some of the initiatives started by the government to enforce education and development in the country. However, from a Saskatchewan point of view I would have to agree with Chris in saying that one of the significant milestones is online learning. Delivering instruction through the World Wide Web creates opportunities and offers experiences to students that the other mediums fall short off. The ability to share information, collaborate and still have the flexibility of working anytime anywhere makes this phase in the timeline significant.

    As Ryan questions the advantages of televised courses (which are great questions to think about), I believe one of the strengths of instructional television is its similar nature to face-to-face teaching. Students are familiar with the classroom-like environment and yet have the flexibility of learning at a distance. But its most obvious weakness is the complexity to involve teacher - learner interaction. Faille and Umbriaco (1999) discuss that when considering DE, there is need to formally plan for learner support. The interaction of teacher and student is needed in order to maximize the learning experience at a distance. Assistance to foster this two-way interaction is evident in the Televised Instructor Manual developed by the UofR. Instructors are encouraged to use the telephone, the audio-conference bridge and are even provided with instructional strategies to interact with their off campus students.

    So, having looked backward into the events that have made DE what it is today, I can say that there is great potential to take DE even further by questioning, debating and thinking about what it truly means to learn at a distance.

  9. Wow! Who knew my experiences with Sesame Street would be so universal – a testament to the power of television in the history of DL! Ryan, I totally agree with your sentiment regarding the closure of Correspondence school having “something” to do with money. That event certainly is an important milestone in the province’s DL as it forced school divisions to come up with their own DL options to meet the unique needs and situations of students to earn credits. Also, as Xin Du stated, technology is certainly excelling DL, but I agree with Chris who mentioned in the discussion forum last week his fear that technology may become the focus, rather than being the vehicle that drives towards the learning outcomes, the ultimate destination.

  10. Distance education involves a remarkable paradox: it has affirmed its existence, but it cannot define itself. (Shale, as cited it Open Learning and Distance Education in Canada, 1999)

    I found my thoughts coming back to this quote as I read through this week’s readings. How interesting it is that distance education has become such a multifaceted concept that it is impossible to define. I was shocked by how long distance learning has been in existence in Canada with the Queens University in Kingston offering its first correspondence course in 1889 and in 1907 the University of Saskatchewan offering off-campus courses.

    I described some of my distance learning experiences in my last post, so will not repeat myself, but Kelley reminded me of my early learning with Sesame Street which I had not connected with my education. It seems impossible to pick one milestone to be significant, when with each new opportunity or technology added, distance learning morphed into something new.

    I am not sure I consider my experiences with Department of Education correspondence courses, during my many years I spent teaching in Manitoba, as positive. Students were often not suited for that type of distance education and had very little input from the teachers hired to mark their assignments and assign them a final grade. I also remember the excitement across our small school division when we were given the opportunity to experience interactive television systems as a distance education option. The school division sent a large number of teachers and administrators down to North Dakota to see interactive television at its “cutting edge”. That school division still uses the system with the added improvements of updated technology.

    I think the movement of the World Wide Web to an interactive and collaborative social system has had the most affect on the distance learning issues of student support, isolation and lack of opportunity for collaboration, I watched my students experience with their correspondence courses. In my opinion the idea of open education has exploded, now that we are able to use web 2.0 tools to expand our learning opportunities, and with many universities offering open course ware available to anyone. On one hand we have taken down walls and opened up learning across the world, but on the other hand, did this create more isolation for some that still do not have access to the technologies that most of us take for granted? My other question might be how we take down the barrier that still exists around the idea that when “anyone” can publish, what do they know anyway, and why should we believe what they have to say? We need to see the opportunity for social learning and growth like the old saying “two heads are better than one”, or in this case when you put unlimited heads together that must be remarkable.

    The distance learning that I experience today is very interactive, very supportive and although not the same as being in a face to face environment with an instructor and other students, it seems to be getting very close. It will be interesting and exciting to see what the next development will be.