Distance education: constantly evolving



For the past 25 years, more and more educational institutions have begun offering distance learning options, thereby transforming their traditional organizational model. What are the motivations behind this institutional choice?

Distance learning, massive open online courses and the digital campus have each been touted as a key innovation for ensuring the future of universities.

To answer this question, Patrick Pelletier, a management researcher at Université TÉLUQ, conducted some forty semi-structured interviews with the administrative and teaching staff of seven universities between 2014 and 2018. This allowed him to determine the criteria, values and influences that guide the decision-making process. 

The researcher identified several factors that are taken into consideration: a desire to reduce costs and to democratize learning, previous pedagogical choices, and the challenge of following increasingly rapidly advancing technologies. Universities must also deal with certain government orientations. This is currently the case with the digital campus, an initiative of the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur aimed at organizing and centralizing various aspects of inter-university cooperation in digital education. 

The study also revealed a certain fad effect. In fact, distance learning, massive open online courses (MOOC) and the digital campus have each been touted as a key innovation for ensuring the future of universities. Highly sensitive to the discourse of business communities and the need to position themselves commercially, management schools and faculties are particularly likely to follow these trends.  

Finally, Patrick Pelletier's work showed that a hybrid form of education is gaining ground. It combines the advantages of distance education with those of classroom learning, thereby meeting pedagogical, economic and logistical objectives (lower cost, optimized occupancy, etc.). Distance learning thus becomes less of a radical organizational disruption than a tool to supplement past pedagogical practices.