Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Future of Distance Learning

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on the future of distance learning, and I’m struggling to be original about the topic. It seems self-evident that the future of distance learning is expansive and inclusive and ever-so-much-more-so. Distance learning has burgeoned far beyond the realm of training for medical transcription and is ubiquitous in corporate settings, higher education, and K-12 education. But the real driver is not just that more people are learning at a distance; it’s that more people are recognizing distance education as a viable alternative to traditional F2F learning. The quality of distance learning coupled with the broad availability of emerging technologies have transformed distance learning from a fall-back, Plan B position to a deliberate first choice.

The growing acceptance of distance learning is fueled by a global increase in online communication. As more of us spend more time together online, engaging with more diverse groups than we ever would in person, the complications of distance matter less, and the benefits matter more, to individuals, corporations, and educational institutions (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009).

If there is a popularity ceiling for distance learning, it may be framed and fortified by distance education institutes themselves. A study by Gambescia and Paolucci (2009) found that few institutions effectively leverage their academic integrity in their promotions, relying instead on convenience and flexibility to appeal to potential students. The study didn’t reveal reasons for this, but I’ll speculate on two reasons:

  1. Convenience and flexibility are big draws for distance learning. It’s slam dunk marketing.
  2. It’s easier to leverage innate characteristics of distance learning than it is to ensure the academic integrity of distance education.
As Gambescia and Paolucci note, “to ensure a high-level of academic fidelity and integrity for online degree programs is not simply a matter of the university transferring current academic assets to the new online degree programs—throwing it over the fence, so to speak. Transferring such academic assets to online degree programs will understandably call for changes, as the inputs and outputs of online degree program offerings by design can be quite different” (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009).

Assuming the momentum gathering around distance learning is indeed forward momentum, distance learning institutions themselves have work to do. Enrollment – ballooning. Acceptance – growing. Perceived quality – ?

More is expected of those to whom more has been given; so it is in distance learning as in other aspects of life. Those of us who are distance learners or work in distance learning are uniquely positioned to cultivate positive impressions of distance learning. We do this best by doing well in our endeavors and demonstrating the high standards of distance education today.

Sally Bacchetta


Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Author

Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001). Distance learning: Issues and concerns of distance learners. Journal of Industrial Technology, 17(3). Retrieved from

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scope Creep: A Horror Story

This week brings another interesting assignment for my Project Management course. I am asked to reflect on an experience I had with scope creep and, well... see for yourself. 

Describe a project, either personal or professional, that experienced issues related to scope creep.  In a former career I managed a residential treatment program for adults with mental illnesses. I supervised the staff and residents of a ten-apartment facility, provided counseling, assisted with activities of daily living, and participated in inter-disciplinary planning and treatment for each resident. The need for mental health care far outpaced available resources, and the CEO continually scouted for new properties to acquire and convert to accommodate our long waiting list.

Such a property was found not far from my facility, and I was flattered when the CEO asked for my help in establishing the new facility. He explained that I would maintain my current duties and also be responsible for interviewing, hiring, and training the new staff. I would also supervise them until a manager was hired and trained. I had a good deal of experience and a solid team, and I was confident that I could take over the additional responsibilities without compromising either program.

What specific scope creep issues occurred?  Almost immediately my role at the new location changed from temporary manager to design consultant-construction site supervisor-accounting rep-professional cleaner-building superintendent. With each passing day I found myself making decisions I had neither the qualifications nor the desire to make.

What interior paint colors do you want? Sally can decide.
We need to order furniture. Let’s ask Sally to do it.
What equipment do we need to set up the new office? The new kitchen? The residents’ bedrooms? Have Sally develop a list. Give Sally the corporate credit card. Let’s have Sally be there to take delivery.
There are bats in the fireplace. My invoice hasn’t been paid. We found mold in the basement. The porch foundation didn’t pass inspection. Call Sally!

How did you or other stakeholders deal with those issues at the time?  My staff stepped up and took on extra responsibilities. The contractors became progressively less motivated, less patient, and less concerned with quality. The CEO went on a 14-day cruise with his wife, and I quit exercising, dusting, and cooking decent meals; I drank too much coffee and slept very little, always with a pager by my side.

Looking back on the experience now, had you been in the position of managing the project, what could you have done to better manage these issues and control the scope of the project? What I could have done better is to actually manage the project instead of scrambling to keep up with the scope creep. I lacked project management experience, and I was so focused on the overwhelming need for more formalized mental health support that it didn’t occur to me to refuse (or question) any of the tasks that were dumped on me.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have drafted some type of work breakdown structure (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008). I would have listed Level 1, 2, 3, etc., tasks and sub-tasks and identified and allocated resources for each. I would have outlined an appropriate chain-of-command and sought approval for each of these documents (Greer, 2010). And I would have said “no.”

“No” to hauling office furniture up a flight of stairs. “No” to manually seeding the acre lot using an old rusty spreader so we could save a few bucks. And absolutely, positively, “no” to checking to see if there really were bats in the fireplace. Yeah, there were. There sure were.

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.