What’s in a Name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…

A name changes everything. . Something I read yesterday changed everything.

In my research proposal, I was describing the type of program I want to investigate as an ONLINE doctoral program. Luckily I read Distance Education in the United States: Past, Present and Future (Saba, 2011) yesterday and learned that the use of the word online is off base and ignorant. The word
Online fails even the most perfunctory of face validity tests. Online does not smell so sweet now, so I’m glad I found out, save what word would be appropriate?

Saba underlines the problem with descriptors based on a technology or mode of delivery, such as mLearning, eLearning or online learning. Distance education fits as it refers to a physical or temporal separation between learners and instructor. Whew!

Yet, at least for library-based doctoral researchers, ‘distance education’ describes the nature of their learning. Even if some attend a cubicle in a department in a campus, as they are separated by space and time from the supervisor and committee members for which they labour, distance education fits the nature of the learning. I wonder how many doctoral researchers stay home, or in the library or live in a different city and communicate with the supervisor via email, phone, etc. If you are a doctoral student in a program tied to a brick and mortar setting, do tell. How do you communicate with your supervisor, is it usually in the same room at the same time?

If any instance of temporal or physical separation between teacher and student, as in ‘homework,’ equals ‘distance education,’ then distance education pops up frequently in traditional same place, same time education. So how helpful is the label distance education to my study?

“Distance education,” while all the rage now, as it frees the student, teacher, and institution from so many constraints garners an unfair degree of suspicion and mistrust. The worry is that students get away with cheating when the teacher is in a different place. Cheating happens in the face to face world of education too, but somehow it’s a fatal flaw of the distance education world. Maybe cheating is a bigger problem in distance education. I don’t know. If distance education invites cheating, then distance educators can plug that gap by doing different kinds of assessments that betray a cheater and of course distance education spins off work for invigilators now more than ever. Then too diploma mills bring down distance education, but diploma mills are also a phenomenon of the face to face world of education. All of these concerns reflect quality. Quality is a function of successful learning not of space and time separation between teacher and learner.

Be gone the terms online program, eLearning, Internet-based education. Be gone the term distance education too. It’s all learning. ( it’s ironic that the Ed. D., should I complete it, will be in distance education.) We need a better nomenclature.

What do you think? What word should I use to describe a doctoral program where no brick and mortar building houses students and teachers for the purpose of attending face to face classes?



2 Replies to “What’s in a Name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

  1. In this era of of controlling children’s lives a term popped up that I appreciate (think it was on a CBC program). This world needs more “free range children”.
    Learning and education is no longer confined to bricks & motar and with Wifi location is irrelevant. Why not free range education?

    MEd student — major Distance Education:)


  2. Thanks for that suggestion…The idea of free range education picks up on the idea of the life-long learning in any environment, which is our reality now. I live the idea of free range as well because it implies that learning occurs outside of formal institutions.


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