Distance Education is a Viable and Highly Desirable Solution for Teacher Training
Distance education is now more than ever a viable and highly desirable solution for teacher training and it can provide the high quality instruction that is required today. There are a variety of strategies for developing distance based teacher education and we need to understand how new and emerging Web 2.0 technologies based on collaborative and supportive communities of practice can support this vision.
Around the world access to the Internet and developments in portable mobile devices, from mobile phones to tablets and laptops, offer the potential for greater access and educational inclusivity. Furthermore, distance education can deliver quality, if proper learning assurance frameworks are adhered to, as well as scalable solutions, though more needs to be done to professionalize distance learning, making it desirable and worthwhile for teacher educators to develop careers in this field.
My vision of learning technologies is critical in orientation rather than utopian and driven by my experience as an educator rather than as a vendor with a new product to sell. Above all it is a vision, which is realistic rather than deterministic and informed by the history of educational technology and the need to develop sound pedagogy and respect for the instructors and developers involved in distance learning provision. All too often today distance education is seen as a cheap alternative to face to face education, one fueled by the constant change of part-time teachers rather than by a core group of instructors who are respected and rewarded appropriately for their work.
Founded in the late nineteenth century correspondence based distance learning courses took almost one century to achieve more widespread acceptance. Online learning has grown rapidly over the last three decades and during the last ten years as new technologies and faster broadband have allowed it to realize many of elements it was always associated with but could not realize.
Distance and online learning are still perceived as the poor relation of face to face education even now, but for the first time, through their more widespread adoption by a range of educational providers across the educational spectrum, they stand a chance of truly changing the international educational environment over the next ten years. There is little doubt that teacher training is one of the most important areas where this influence will be found.
While distance based teacher training is often damaged through association with a utopian vision of distance learning – it is cheaper, it can provide anytime, anywhere learning, institutions can teach more with fewer staff, the enrollment of students increases with distance provision – we need to stress that access to technology cannot guarantee change.
Technology in a distance-learning context is not like a fire that automatically radiates warmth and influence as Chris Dede has said; it is rather like a set of clothes that need to be worn and personalized in each situation. In this respect in exploring the issue of distance learning based teaching training we have to explore a range of alternative approaches, primarily blended distance learning provision, in which a mix of synchronous and asynchronous technologies can be used to provide a supportive framework for teacher development, collaboration and communication.
Distance learning based teacher training, if it is to be successful, requires a blend of technology, pedagogy and sound educational approaches, as well as a firm focus on the importance of the student experience and strategies aimed at enhancing flexible learning while understanding the dangers of learner retention.
One important variable in this debate going forward will also be the role of open educational resources (OERs) and how they can be leveraged to promote collaborative design, sharing and development of teacher training resources, free at the point of use.
Michael Thomas PhD is senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK and has taught at international universities around the world, notably in Germany and Japan. He is author or editor of over ten books and 70 publications in the field of computer-assisted learning and is lead editor of the “Digital Education and Learning” book series with Palgrave Macmillan. He is editor-in-chief of International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments and of a four volume major work on Online Learning for Sage.