The definition of Distributed Learning determined by the US Distance Learning Association “encompasses the various facets of this learning environment. And unlike the many definitions…. the definition encompasses distance education’s long history.”1 The definition itself includes the words “technologies and other forms of learning at a distance.”2
This definition however does have an emphasis on location. As modern technology changes the way we live, interact and work, it seems obvious that we would change the way we learn as well. Distributed Learning encompasses a new way of learning pedagogically. There are two main facets working concurrently within distributive learning theory. One is the physical placing of the student, not necessarily near the tutor, but more importantly, the role of the student and the tutor changes significantly in a distributed learner environment.
Distributed learning provides “learners the opportunity to use their meta-cognitive skills during the learning process. Meta-cognition is a learner’s ability to be aware of their cognitive capabilities and to use these capabilities to learn”.3 This is critical for e-learners according to Ally M. at the University of Athabasca, “since learners will complete learning materials individually.”4 This actually avoids rote learning often seen in schools which avoid deeper learning opportunities in students.
Our interactions, both social and work related, are increasingly in an on-line environment. We use new technologies for an ever-increasing variety of communications so it makes sense to engage in this environment, whilst you are learning. If the online learning community is authentic, then real learning can occur. "Online learning communities provide many opportunities to enhance and support learning on-line”5 Technical education on-line reflects the increasing number of technical on-line jobs and work environments in the wider world.
Defining distributed learning has moved from a purely distance location method of acquiring knowledge and skills, to an understanding that the type of learning is different from that in a college or classroom. Collaboration not cooperation, where “cooperation describes students working alongside each other…. Collaboration…describes interactions that are interdependent and actually promote the kinds of joint contributions of students that enables outcomes that exceed what might normally be achieved….”6
Distributed learning is an umbrella term for all learning that generally is not located in a single central location. “Distinctions can arise when the chosen model focuses on either or both time and geographic distances.”7 However, in an age where educators are pushing for differentiated learning, personalized learning, creative and critical thinking and non-linear curricula, it is important to except different methods of delivery as part of a robust pedagogy.
1 & 2 Bower, B. & Hardy, K (2004) From correspondence to cyberspace: Changes and challenges in distance education New Directions for Community Colleges, Vol. 2004 Issue 128
3&4 The Impact of Technology on Education” in Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe,
5&6 Journal of Learning Design: Representing Authentic Learning Designs Supporting the Development of Online Communities of Learners: Oliver R, Herrington J, Herrington A,
7 Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_learning