So Distant and yet So Close: Online/Distance education

I noticed recently that when I start talking about using the technological opportunities and software in my teaching practice, I end up talking about how those have affected my learning practice. And as I believe that teaching is nothing else but learning, I think this is a good start for a “beginner educator” 🙂

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In my previous post I talked about the online courses, the opportunities those provide and how they impact the concept of freedom. Here I will build on whatever has already been discussed with some thoughts on distance education which for me before today was not very different from online courses provided by MOOCs. My short research showed that I am not the only one who tries to solve the dilemma of whether there is any difference between those two as I have noticed that sometimes these words are used interchangeably. I found Kathy Keairns’ blog post on the topic (she is the Director of Web-Based Learning in the Office of Teaching & Learning at the University of Denver (DU)) and I think she has a very nice illustration of the differences between MOOCs and Distant education. You can check it out here.

However, here I would like to tell about my own experience as an “online student” in general not separating MOOCs from Distant courses mostly because my experience with Distant courses is limited to language courses in Livemocha. I love several things about online learning and all of them are connected to the fact that they bring the learner even closer to the learning process. As a distant course or MOOC learner you are the most connected to what you are learning than in any other learning environment. When I talk about ideal learner-centered classrooms, I always cite Nunan and Lamb in whose words “if learners are to learn anything at all, they have to do the learning for themselves.” (Nunan, Lamb, 1996, p. 9) Thus the online environment somehow becomes the ideal “learner-centered classroom”. Here all the decisions are made and carried out by the learner. Here is where the learner knows that in order to be successful he needs commitment, punctuality, determination, time and energy management skills as he knows best his own learning strategies and is able to monitor his own learning process.

The online courses that I took taught me to the aforementioned skills and both as a learner and a teacher I consider those invaluable for success and advancement.

Another thing that online learning taught me is that being an individual learner doesn’t cut you away from the community. Actually, it brings you closer to people with same interests, however most often it also happens in the virtual world. I consider this to have its own advantages as it teaches to share responsibility and knowledge with people who you don’t know well but who you connect with based on the same interest and on the urge to learn more.

So, I believe, distant (online) education does bring the learner closer to what learning is. I would love to learn you thoughts on this.

Carpe Diem!