“Distance Learning”

by Steve Friedland, Elon University

Sometimes I wonder why we call mobile, on-line education “distance learning.” I understand that on-line education occurs at a distance, but even in regular bricks-and-mortar classes, learning frequently occurs at a distance as well. Students may participate and take notes in class, but often the great bulk of their learning occurs elsewhere. Students often need additional time to untangle the points and structures discussed in the course. In fact, a class session might not offer the time or space needed to process what has occurred. This means students will dissect or “unpack” the rules or policies and their application after class, when they are resolving problems, reviewing their notes, or simply recalling what happened.   When I was a student, most of my light bulbs went off when I was studying in depth in the library late at night or right before a final exam, when I was trying to reconstruct the mosaic of the entire course.

Several inferences can be drawn from these premises:

1. Creating time to repack a class. It would be useful to give students time to play with ideas and organize them after a class, perhaps in informal sessions with the professor. Some of the best sessions I had with students this past semester were over coffee in the school’s lounge after difficult property classes. I could see that just by discussing what happened in the class made for better and deeper understanding of the concepts. It really brought to mind the old saying, say 1000 times, hear 100 times, understood 10 times. I don’t rely just on my own experience or this venerable bromide. The brain science studies suggests that every time we revisit a subject we tend to reorganize it – something I found true with teaching a course multiple times – and it would be interesting to give students time after a class in a relaxed setting to discuss with the teacher what has occurred for the purpose of developing course structures

2. Engage students at a distance. Instead of just asking students to read cases or statutes, it might be preferable to flip the classroom and give them tasks that require precisely stated deliverables, such as arguing for or against parties or a position. In this way, we could continue threads in class started at a distance beforehand.

3. Directed Review. Since learning experts have found that ‘spaced repetition’ is a very useful way to promote recall, it might be helpful to direct students on how to review material.  Students can be asked to create very short PowerPoint mini-reviews of one of the class topics and present that review in class at the end of the semester. In this way, the professor can observe what students are learning, students can learn by creating a review, and other students can benefit from the mini-reviews by opening up the on-line site where the presentations have been posted.

These are just some of the ways we could start to transform learning at a distance, as well as not view it as a lesser form of education. In fact, it may just be the wave of the future.

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One Response

  1. Distance education is the future , more and more and will improve students take more control of classes. There are more and more new methods to online learning, where students can learn at their own pace.

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