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Distributed Learning: A Definition … in confusion?

I am, dare I say, confused about what exactly distributed learning is. Is there an actual (or semi-universally accepted) definition for distributed learning?

Looking at the BC Education Website, their definition is as follows:

Distributed Learning (DL) takes place when:

  • a student is primarily at a distance from the teacher,
  • whether he/she is at home; or
  • connected to teachers from another learning facility.

DL gives both rural and urban students in British Columbia improved access, more choice, and flexibility to learn outside classroom schedules. The vision for DL is to provide a quality, dynamic and engaging learning environment that all students in the province can access. can access.

According to LearnNowBC:

Distributed Learning (DL) is a method of instruction that relies primarily on indirect communication between students and teachers, including internet or other electronic-based delivery, teleconferencing, or correspondence. DL is a choice for BC residents who need or want to learn at a distance from a school.

As per Kamloops School District No. 73

Distributed learning takes place outside of the traditional school classroom when a learner is primarily at a distance from the educator and school.

According to Alberta Education

Distributed learning is a flexible approach to any learning that is purposefully designed to allow teachers, students, and learning and teaching resources in the regular classroom setting or in different, non-centralized locations, to interact while separated by time and/or place for some or all their learning activities.

According to The Alberta Teachers’ Association

Distributed learning (DL) refers to non–face-to-face communication between students and teachers through such modes as correspondence, online learning, outreach schools, teleconferencing and video conferencing. DL allows for flexibility with respect to where and when students learn. DL is an ambiguous and broadly defined concept; this is not surprising. given the constantly changing technology in a wide variety of school/site contexts, school authorities and instructors.

The University of Regina, I think, might have one of the better definitions / descriptions of distributed learning and it’s goals that I’ve come across (thus far)

Distributed learning is a model which offers multiple channels of learning and teaching through a variety of delivery formats and mediums—print, digital (online), and traditional delivery methods—allowing instructors, students, and course content to be not only located in different, non-centralized locations, but also to reduce the learning distance between faculty and students in their face-to-face interactions. Distributed learning connects students with teachers across the Province, and in so doing, provides choice, flexibility, and authentic learning experiences. Distributed learning includes all forms of learning where, by design, students and their teachers may be separated in time and/or space for some or all of their interactions. It offers the potential of exploring different relationships and building highly personalized and individualized learning opportunities for student success, as well as expanding instructor expertise to critically influence and support student learning. This definition does not preclude face-to-face interactions between instructors and students. Rather, it provides another layer of student engagement with course materials.

It should be emphasized, however, that distributed learning is not synonymous for distance learning, though it includes a number of teaching and learning tools that increase the accessibility of education across physical space. Rather, distributed learning describes the process and outcome of using multiple methods of delivery and facilitation to decrease both physical and intellectual distance…. Distributed learning offers great potential to take teaching beyond the current lecture-mode paradigm which is losing its ability to engage the new generation of students.

Is it just me, or is there a disconnect between how different groups (i.e.: Provincial Education vs Post Secondary) define distributed learning? Is it any wonder I’m confused?


1 Michael { 10.03.13 at 19:32 }

Hi Kendra
I think that by placing all of the different definitions of DL in one blog, it helps us to see that the definition and the form that DL takes depends on the intended audience. For the K-12 group, DL is more about bridging gaps in space and sometimes in time. But as we get to PSE, and even graduate studies, there is more talk of ‘learning communities’, sharing ideas, finding, filtering, and applying knowledge. That’s us. No more easy stuff. It hurts.

2 Michael { 10.06.13 at 17:45 }

Hi Kendra
We are to work in a group for the next activity. I would like to team up with you. What do you say?

3 khaines { 10.07.13 at 02:23 }

Sounds good to me! I’m four hours time difference, but thankfully we have technology on our side! How do you want to connect? A group of us used google docs last year to at least get our thoughts figured out. My google name is ?kennie[dot]haines[at]gmail[dot]com? I’m running an Adobe CC workshop all day today… But if I get a chance I’ll see what can be set up. PB works is another neat option.

4 Tzveta { 10.15.13 at 00:45 }

Good job! You put these definitions together. I was a bit confused as well because some definitions are different from each other.

5 jbrookes { 02.02.14 at 15:42 }

Hi Kendra,

Sorry to be posting comments so late in the game…am finishing off my coursework very late.

I enjoying your commentary about all the differences and feel that the lack of consistency amongst all the definitions by various organizations that should be working in sync with each other, could be a very costly thing. The inability to compare products across organizations and transferability from one school to the next is not helpful to students.

Here’s to hoping there is some clarity in the near future.


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