Shrinking the Distance in Distance Learning

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Our E-Learning Expert, Mason New, dives into how technology is reshaping the way students learn, when they learn, and where they learn. In this post, he discusses the challenges of online, distance learning and how efficient technology reduces confusion and improves instruction and learning.


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Mason New
Founder, NewVia: e-Learning Design Solutions

Teaching and learning in the 21st century are changing. The educational system built during the latter part of the Industrial Revolution — one that valued precision, time, and structure — is morphing into a dynamic environment where technology allows learning to happen at all times and, almost, all places. Teachers and students now have access to limitless information almost instantly. People can communicate at great distances for almost no cost. Mobile devices mean the classroom can be anywhere.

Across the spectrum of technology, the interaction of teachers and students remains at the core of learning. Smartphones, Wi-Fi, or the Internet itself are not inherently transforming education. Rather, these inventions in the hands of the best teachers promote accessible and effective learning.

But, learning in an online capacity is not easy. One theory called “transactional distance” explains some of the challenges. According to the theory, originally conceived by Dr. Michael G. Moore, teacher and student sit at an intellectual and physical distance, a distance only shortened through dialogue and structure. In an online environment, because teachers and students are not in the same physical location, dialogue and structure must be properly balanced. Otherwise, the student can lose interest, become confused, and leave the virtual “classroom.” After all, it is quite easy to close the browser or visit another website.

Therefore, dialogue and structure become integral to successful online instruction. Streaming technologies and cloud-based platforms have helped. Trilogy Mentors is an online mentoring and tutoring platform that has used these technologies to solve the challenges of transactional distance.

In real time, students and mentors meet via video and chat to discuss, (dialogue). They review homework using an interactive “whiteboard” and plan for upcoming academic assessments, (structure). The result: reduced confusion and improved learning. And, neither the student nor the mentor needs to leave home.


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After 20 years of working in two technology companies and two schools, Mason New launched NewVia: e-Learning Design Solutions because he saw the need within all organizations to solve learning problems using technology. He holds a Master of Science in Education from Purdue University, a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, a Bachelor of Arts in English from Washington and Lee University, and an honorable discharge from his toughest school, the United States Marine Corps.