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Definition of Distance Education Running head: DEFINITION OF DISTNACE EDUCATION


Definition of Distance Education Jennifer Maddrell Old Dominion University

Definition of Distance Education
Definition of Distance Education Personal Definition Distance education is planned instruction where the learner is geographically separated from the entity which provides the instruction. Rationale The following breaks down the definition and provides the rationale for the important elements within the definition: Planned Instruction. Planned instruction is central to the definition as it signifies the purposeful design and delivery of instruction by one entity with the intent to support the learning of another. Education versus Learning. The definition attempts to distinguish education (as planned instruction) from learning. While the intent is for education to support learning, education does not guarantee learning. Further, learning can occur with or without education. Two (or more) Parties. A key aspect of planned instruction is that there must be at least two parties, namely the learner and the entity providing the planned instruction. The attempt is to distinguish planned education from other forms of informal learning which are undertaken solely by the learner. Separation. Geographic separation is a key characteristic of this distance education definition. While instructional methods and media (discussed below) can help overcome some aspects of the physical separation, the student participating in distance education cannot have the all of the same experiences and interactions as a student who is not separated. The planned instruction


must consider the implications of the physical separation of the learner, such as the inability to attend lectures, visit the library, or meet with teachers and students. The instruction’s design, including methods and media, must support learning in spite of the separation.

Definition of Distance Education
Methods and Media. Note that this definition does not address specific methods or media. The methods and media are considered to be a part of the planned instruction to support learning. While the methods and media address “how” to facilitate learning at a distance, they are not helpful in defining “what” distance education is. The “how” (methods and media) varies based on


instructional needs and evolves due to advances in technology and instructional delivery options, but the “what” (the planned instruction for a separated learner) is a constant. Comparable Definitions The two definitions that follow offer a comparable view of distance education. Both focus on the notion of formal education (or planned learning) and the separation of the learner. However, both also address the techniques and technologies (methods and media) to facilitate learning which I have chosen to omit from my definition for the reasons noted above. Moore & Kearsley. Moore & Kearsley focus on the need for special course design and organizational arrangements to overcome the separation, yet they use the term “teaching” which I view as narrower in context than “instruction”: Distance education is all planned learning that normally occurs in a different place from teaching, requiring special techniques of course design and instruction, communication through various technologies, and special organizational and administrative arrangements. (Moore & Kearsley, as cited in Moore, 2007, p. x) Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvackek. As cited in Schlosser & Simonson (2006), Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvackek focus on the learning “group” which I feel restricts their definition to educational settings involving multiple students in a class: Distance education is defined as institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors. (p.1)

Definition of Distance Education



Moore, M. G. (2007). Handbook of Distance Education (2nd ed.). Routledge. Schlosser, L., & Simonson, Michael. (2006). Distance education: definition and glossary of terms (2nd ed.). Greenwich CT: IAP/Information Age Pub.