Going the Distance More Training Online Than Face to Face

Article excerpt

With schools and universities opening for fall attendance, I find that at this time of year, one personal recollection of my school history always comes to mind.

The recollection involves my desire to obtain a PhD in leadership. Since I had completed my first degree while working in the North, I was accustomed to the self-learning strategies offered through correspondence courses. I remember trudging to the post office every Saturday to pick up my lessons and marked assignments.

After completing a master's degree, I started looking for a self-study post-graduate program. Since I could not attend school full time and there were no self-study programs available in Manitoba, I quite naturally directed my interests toward one of the first distance education colleges in the United States. In fact, I made a deal with them.

I agreed to act as a program co-ordinator and recruit potential PhD students in Manitoba in exchange for free tuition. With the agreement signed, I advertised and held two information sessions with over 90 participants each. The instructors flew in from Florida and met our participants, individuals from all over the world. Most of the participants had incomplete post-secondary degrees from other educational institutions and were frustrated with their inability to gain credit at our local universities.

However, I did not anticipate the response that resulted from the information sessions. While participating students were thrilled to be presented with such an opportunity to complete their degrees, there were representatives from our traditional educational institutions who weren't so happy. In fact, they commented loudly that distance education didn't compare to face-to-face class time, didn't have value in the eyes of institutions and was frankly a waste of money. Once this backlash hit the newspapers, potential participants slinked away with only one person who successfully registered. Unfortunately, I was back to finding another way to get a post-graduate degree.

So why do I laugh at this incident so many years later? Well, guess what? Today, technology-driven distance education is a blockbuster business for all of our educational institutions. In fact, there are now multiple university and college degrees available online by distance education. Study "anywhere, anytime" is often the motto used to encourage this type of programing. So what happened to the importance of face-to-face time? Perhaps it is a fallacy after all or maybe I was just ahead of my time.

Yet technology is continuing to drive change in both the educational and professional training and development fields as quickly as in the family home. When people want to know something, they turn to the Internet. They have iPhones, iPads, laptop computers and all kinds of technical tools to enhance their learning. In other words, learners are taking control of their own learning experience; they want information when they want it. They resolve their information challenges by surfing the net, joining online groups, reading blogs, requesting news alerts and reading online magazines called ezines. People take information and learn from every source possible.

While high schools might be debating whether children should have laptops at school, corporate training and development is changing with lightning speed. Larger corporations, for instance, have their own web portals where employees can access multiple learning programs. They can also create their own learning communities where they can engage in formal as well as informal learning activities with colleagues both inside and outside of their organization. …