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What is the Future of Distance Learning?


What advancements and changes can we expect for online education?

Distance learning is not simply a contemporary trend that will fade away. When considering the future of distance learning, it is important to look at many of the trends related to learning that are already influencing current trends and planning.

The amount of knowledge and information that must be taught to tomorrow's leaders is expanding at a tremendous rate. The high school graduating class of 2008 will be exposed to more new information in one year than their grandparents were in a lifetime. Memorizing facts will have a much lower value, while utilizing information for analysis and decision making will be a critical skill for educational and professional advancement.


Continuous learning will be essential.

The typical worker will have many distinct careers in his or her lifetime. Each of these career paths or changes will require the attainment and practice of new knowledge, skills, and competencies. Lifelong learning will be something any individual must do to remain competitive.


Students will be expected to have an ability to conduct research, analyze data, adapt to changes, etc. In this way, distance learning provides a more resourceful solution for the student and working population. Its flexibility, accessibility, and program diversity better meets the immediate educational needs of individuals, making learning more meaningful, effective, and practical.


International study will not be as dependent on travel.

The world is shrinking rapidly. The Internet has brought the world together in ways that nobody could have expected. You can now attend a college halfway around the world with classmates living in any country. International education will likely gain in popularity and enrollment as demand from students increases. Travel costs, bureaucracy, and cultural barriers will impact international study less and less.


Distance learning will impact the operations of traditional schools.

Universities and colleges will likely begin to collaborate with one another in an effort to diversify their offerings to meet the ever growing need for higher education while staying competitive in the global market.


Private companies will not be excluded from the changes affecting higher education. People will telecommute to their jobs as their employers will be increasingly forced to compete on a global, rather than local, scale.


Technical familiarity will have increasing value.

The skills that distance learning will impart upon students will continue to increase in demand — skills such as an ability to learn, to adapt quickly, to communicate across a neutral medium, to analyze data, to utilize technology, an ability to conduct research, and, of course, the ability to work independently without compromising productivity.


Colleges, universities, and schools of the future will utilize technologies far more advanced than those of today. (Consider the complexity of today's technology, some of which would have been inconceivable only thirty years ago.) Learning to use the new technology will be essential to navigating modern life and advancing professionally.


Ways distance learning will have to evolve.

In order to meet the needs of the changing world noted above, future learning must be:

  • Time flexible
  • Independent of geography (lacking geographical barriers)
  • Competitive cost/value
  • Learner-centered with less emphasis on lecture-style classes
  • High-technology, incorporating new media and computer applications as part of instructor presentations and course work
  • Culturally diverse
  • Adaptable to the needs of the global marketplace
  • Growth oriented from the perspective of the individual and organization
  • Contemporary material that is relevant to the times

What distance learning institutions will have to do.

Organizations that deliver distance learning will need to consider these issues and more:

  • Realize what market and demographic groups they serve
  • Be responsive to adult learner needs
  • Prove their value to adult learners, such as quality, relevance in material, convenience, etc.
  • Take direction from business organizations, and in response, anticipate and adapt to their needs
  • Streamline the instruction process
  • Look for partnerships with other complementary organizations
  • Find creative ways to certify learning credentials
  • Be prepared to compete globally with a variety of learning providers
  • Stay abreast of relevant issues in education
  • Understand that the paradigm of thinking in education has changed over the last fifty years and will continue to change in the future

Likely changes that will happen.

As a result of all of those factors, we may see some of the following predictions come true in the next decade:


Companies and organizations will compete directly with colleges and K-12 schools, as has already begun to happen with charter schools or schools and training websites.

  • Partnerships and mergers between learning institutions, publishers, technology companies, and learning providers will consolidate the marketplace
  • A greater percentage of learning (formal and informal) will take place online
  • The role of the instructor will be broken down into multiple specialized positions: curriculum design, content delivery, classroom facilitator, learner support, etc.
  • Demand for top instructors will grow in both the education market and in business
  • Fewer students will get the traditional on-campus degree and most will get at least a portion of their formal education online and off-campus
  • Adult students will become more commonplace and schools will more readily facilitate these learners
  • Cultural diversity will become increasingly more integrated into formal education

Learners will complete degrees and certificates made up of courses and experiences from a wide range of learning providers private, public, traditional and online.