Going the distance


Lethbridge College is preparing for the next wave of learners who want their education available 24/7 and don’t particularly enjoy classrooms.

When Justin Shigehiro first cracks a textbook at Lethbridge College this month, it’s likely he and other recent high school grads will fully expect any traditional classroom instruction to be spiced by dashes of electronic razzle dazzle.

Like most of his generation, the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute grad is technologically savvy and eager to incorporate all the gadgets and wizardry into the process of learning.

Students, especially those who are as much at ease with Hewlett-Packard as they were with Fisher-Price, expect to have choices in how they access education. They anticipate Lethbridge College will provide flexible delivery options, such as blended and/or online courses, in addition to traditional classroom settings. They expect instructors to use technology in the classroom.

Fortunately for Shigehiro and his i-generation mates, Lethbridge College’s instructors are keeping up with the times. Gone are the days of blackboards and stand-alone lectures; most instructors now integrate some level of “e-learning” into their teaching repertoire.

Technology is now front and center; in some cases teachers and students never meet face to face. Online learning is the medium of choice for many pursuing post-secondary education, and instructors are responding in flexible ways. Delivery of instruction is flexible, accessible and personalized. So what is Lethbridge College doing to keep pace with the trend? Well, as it turns out, everything.

Lethbridge College has offered courses under the title of distributed learning for many years, but when the opportunity to review campus practices arose, the college discovered a learning medium of enormous depth with huge growth potential. Distributed learning is an umbrella term that encompasses all delivery methods at the college.

It isn’t just online, distance delivery or the use of innovative resources in the traditional classroom. Distributed learning is a multifaceted instructional model that includes any type of learning where some resources can be accessed independent of time and space. Distributed learning can be used in combination with face-to-face classroom and traditional distance-learning courses. It can also be an exclusive online environment.

In the fall of 2008 the Distributed Learning Operations Team embarked upon a journey to analyze the state of distributed learning on campus and to develop recommendations for improvement. After a year of extensive research, the college launched the development of “Roadmap to the Future: Lethbridge College’s Distributed Learning Strategy,” which will improve the model for each program area independently.

The goal is to enhance the student experience and increase engagement. The college will recruit new learners who seek flexible access to programs and courses. An important component is the provision of support to instructors while flexible learning models spread across campus.

Education is in a transition period, says Karen Harker, chair of the Educational Enhancement Team. Set foot in a few classrooms and you will see methods ranging from the traditional face-to-face lecture model with some online enhancements, to use of iPods and scenario-based learning or practicum opportunities. Many use a blended strategy.

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