The WWW of Distance Learning: Who Does What and Where?

Article excerpt

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are distance learners. In 1977, they took a Pennsylvania State University correspondence course in ice-cream making. Ben and Jerry have done well: They grossed $174M in sales last year. You guessed it - they're the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

Maybe your ancestors were distance learners, too. Let's face it: Distance education is not a new idea; it's an evolving instructional method. Eighteenth- and 19th-century distance learners communicated with their instructors via mail. In the first half of the 20th century, radio and television joined the mail system as learning venues. And distance learning continues to expand in the workplace, military, and colleges, with technologies that range from audiotapes to intranet to satellite-based training. It's all about change.

Peter Drucker states in Forbes magazine, "Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics.... It's as large a change as when we first got the printed book.... Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off-campus via satellite or two-way video at a fraction of the cost." Distance learning is big.

Sure, it's a lot of things to a lot of people: correspondence courses, videoconferencing, and online training, to name a few. We even have several names for it - distance learning, distance education, open learning, distance training. But whatever you call it and however you use it, it helps to break it down to simple terms - people, places, and things.

The people

Technology will never replace trainers or instructional designers. But technology brings with it more demands for teamwork and collaboration among a diverse group of workers. Here's a look at some distance learning team members and their roles.

Instructional designer. This person performs the initial analysis and instructional design tasks. He or she also advises on course exercises and revisions.

Instructional developer. An instructional developer writes course materials, exercises, and auxiliary materials. He or she also develops overheads and supports the trainer.

Technology supporter. This person helps choose and support the technology. He or she helps to install and maintain the equipment and helps the trainer learn how to use the technology. The technology supporter also coordinates technology issues with the facilities supporter and distantsite facilitators.

Facilities supporter. He or she works with the technology supporter to ensure that distant sites are set up and operable.

Trainer. A trainer assists with course development, becomes familiar with course flow, and learns how to use the technology. And, of course, a trainer trains.

Materials supporter. This person produces the training materials, manuals, overheads, graphics, exercises, and so forth.

Distant-site facilitator. A distant-site facilitator coordinates all distant-site setup. …