The future of distance education will rely on a number of factors, such as accessibility to technology, infrastructure improvement, and affordability of both providing and receiving instruction. More important than those elements, however, will be the development of solid and effective instructional materials and experiences. As Simonson (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008b) points out, distance education reaches out to learners in different places, with different backgrounds and varying technological resources. In order to meet the needs of those diverse learners, distance education must provide instruction that is equivalent, rather than identical, to the classroom learning experience. This means that distance education must consist of more than simply a recording of an instructor in front of a classroom. As this mode of instruction at the K-12 level evolves, online schools are beginning to include online learning experiences such as:
- Interactive lessons, where students can respond to questions and find out immediately if they are right or wrong; an example is the learning game website at http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/web_games.htm
- Links to exploratory websites that can provide richer experiences; the Museum of Modern Art, for example, offers virtual museum tours: http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/web_games.htm
- Virtual world games, where learners are characters represented by avatars; examples are Minecraft, Second Life, and TropicMind, which focuses on math, sciences, and history: http://education.tropicmind.com/index.php?mod=2&action=intro
- Special-topic courses not available in most brick-and-mortar schools, such as Navajo language offered by The American Academy at http://www.theamericanacademy.com/content/navajo-language (The American Academy, 2014).
In the area of K-12 education, virtual schooling is now available nationwide, and in many states is presented as a charter school connected to a physical school district. Many programs provide a computer for student use at home. For many families, this answers the problems of affordability and accessibility that separated students from these opportunities just a short time ago (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008).
The world of distance education is continually growing. Simonson (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008a) noted the growth from 1 million to over 6 million online students in higher education at the time his video was created. As online-only schools continue to appear, and with the addition of online-only K-12 schools, the numbers of students can only increase. This means that academia is faced with questions of how to develop online distance education to reach its full potential.
Connections Academy. (2014). High tech student [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.connectionsacademy.com/online-high-school/about/technology.aspx
Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008, September/October). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the Web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63-67. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008a). Principles of distance education: Distance education: The next generation. [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008b). Principles of distance education: Equivalency theory. [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
The American Academy. (2014). Navajo Language. Retrieved from http://www.theamericanacademy.com/content/navajo-language