In looking at Distance Learning, I feel that the central element to its growth, effectiveness, and legitimacy is due to the communication tools that we now have that aid in the implementation of distance learning classes. Siemens (2008) hit is on the head when he stated that one of the items that is providing a "Growing Acceptance of Distance Education is Fueled by the Practical Experience with New (communication) tools." Skype, video-conferencing, chat, blogs, and wikis are just a few of the tools out there that help distant educators and students overcome the obstacles and challenges of not being educated in a traditional classroom. These tools seem to be bridging the gap of not having a physical professor or instructor in a classroom that is providing immediate feedback to every question. While we are still not quite there in terms of interactivity, there have definitely been advances that have brought us to the point where we are much more comfortable with learning from a distance.
I feel there is another factor that has benefited learning, teaching, and instructing in a distant education environment. That is the rise of social networking. Today, people are much more at ease in communicating online. From Facebook to Twitter to Online Dating, people are accepting the idea of building relationships and communicating online. This type of interaction is no longer considered out of reach or overly expensive or difficult to use. It is now considered a viable communication medium that is quickly becoming on the same level with making traditional telephone calls and email.
Siemens, G. (2008). Assessment of collaborative learning. Vodocast. Laureate Education, Inc.