As distance education continues to become a prominent form of learning around the world, various scholars have provided their theories as to the possible elements that have and will continue to be the foundations of growth. One such scholar is George Siemens who believes three of these elements include global diversity, communication, and collaborative interaction (Laureate Education, Inc, 2008). The increase in social media and video conferencing tools are evidence that these elements, at least the element of communication, may be true. Communication, in one aspect, can be considered the essential element upon which global diversity and collaborative interaction have branched since neither can happen effectively without the ability to communicate with others.
Online communication channels reduce the distance between people and allow interactions to happen more quickly than they might otherwise. Communication with distant colleagues, relatives and friends is shortened from weeks to minutes and can even be instant, allowing us to maintain stronger ties to a wider group of people than ever before” (New Media Consortium, 2007, p. 4).
The way in which we communicate has evolved over the years. What used to only be said through face-to-face conversations, letters sent through the post, or phone calls eventually could be expressed through email, instant messaging, text messages, video conferencing, blogs, wikis, and social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook. Even the use of Emoticons or “Like” features have taken the place of showing satisfaction with a real smile. Today, educators are taking advantage of programs and tools such as ProjectWriter, Subtext, Instagram, Blackboard, Skype, Google Hangouts, and even online video games like World of Warcraft or Second Life as a means to reach and communicate with students in an environment that is most comfortable to the student (Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, 2015; Edudemic, 2014, 2015; Iskold, 2007; New Media Consortium, 2007; Personalize Learning, 2014).
With all the new ways to socialize and communicate online, some scholars, educators, and everyday bloggers are concerned about what the lack of face-to-face interactions may have on students in the future.
Online education is permitting students who live in a rural or isolated area to attend classes from the comfort of their own home and it has added to home school curriculums across America. However, there is one drawback to all of this innovative technology: The lack of socialization (Edudemic, 2014).
In this article, the Edudemic team discusses using “anthromorphic technology”, giving inanimate technologies human or animal characteristics, to make online learning more personal. Some of their suggestions include using multiple monitors simultaneously (one to do work on and the other to run communication software such as Skype or Google Hangouts), meeting with classmates once a week IN PERSON, and taking advantage of the internet by virtually meeting with people who are geographically distant, such as in another state or country.
Communication in distance learning is not restricted to communication between teachers and students, but also between teachers and parents. In contradicting posts on Edutopia and Education World, the debate begins on whether social media tools should be used for communicating with parents. According to O’Brien of Edutopia, the top five methods of communication from educators and school administration prefered by parents were “e-mail from the district/school, online parent portal, district/school e-newsletters, district/school website, [and] telephone/voice messaging system” (2011, How Parents Want School News), with social media falling below newspapers and school board meetings. Education World’s (2013) blog post, on the other hand, is a string of excerpts and highlights of Jane Baskwill’s book, Attention Grabbing Skills for Involving Parents in their Children’s Learning (2013). This post attempts to highlight the use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and virtualpinboards as tools for mass distribution of school information. Although it is probably the least cost-effective method, perhaps the best way to reach the majority of parents is to send emails, newsletters, and post to one or two social networking sites.
Education World. (2015, January 11). Parent communication: Using social media [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/stenhouse/classroom-communication-social-media-tips.shtml
Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (2015, January 8). ProjectWriter – A great new tool for group writing projects [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2015/01/projectwriter-students-group-writing-projects.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+educatorstechnology%2FpDkK+%28Educational+Technology+and+Mobile+Learning%29&utm_content=FeedBurner
Edudemic. (2014, December 23). Anthromorphic technology: Making online education social [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/making-online-education-social/
Edudemic. (2015, January 9). Subtext: For sharpening and expanding language arts skills [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/subtext-for-sharpening-and-expanding-language-arts-skills/
Iskold, A. (2007, May 30). Evolution of Communication: From email to Twitter and beyond [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://readwrite.com/2007/05/30/evolution_of_communication
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Principles of distance education: The future of distance education. Baltimore, MD: Author.
New Media Consortium. (2007). Social networking, “the third place”, and the evolution of communication. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Evolution-of-Communication.pdf
O’Brien, A. (2011, August 31). What parents want in school communication [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien
Personalize Learning. (2014, December 17). 10 Trends to personalize learning in 2015 [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.personalizelearning.com/2014/12/10-trends-to-personalize-learning-in.html