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Distributed Learning is a growing trend among colleges and universities today. Over 1,000 schools in the United States and Canada use some type of distributed learning class and an estimated three million students took an online class in 2000. While distributed learning is becoming more prevalent in today's society, it is important that we understand its process and examine its benifit's against our own learning environment.
2. Distributed Learning and Distributed Cognition
"Distributed learning is an instructional model that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different, non-centralized locations also that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place. The distributed learning model can be used in combination with traditional classroom-based courses, with traditional distance learning courses, or it can be used to create wholly virtual classrooms" (Barr, R.B. and J. Tagg, 1995). This process of collaboration between people through the means of technology with out meeting face-to-face is very different from traditional distance learning programs.
Distributed Learning draws on multiple types of expertise and cultural knowledge from community resources outside of the school, (Dede, 2004). Distributive learning distributes the expertise amongst the players, all learning from one another and adding their own understanding and life experiences to the group. With all participants contributing their knowledge to the learning environment, the information becomes rich. Distributed Learning is considered an improvement over traditional classroom learning because of the variety and breadth of the collective of participants, both human and "inanimate," who are contributing to the overall knowledge/experience base.
Distributed cognition is the process of interaction between people on a project collectively, but as soon as they separate and go back to working individually the collective cognition disappears (Hutchins, 1995). Essentially, there are three players: the individual, the group, and the environment within which all are interacting (Gureckis, T. & Goldstone, R., 2006). It is a branch of science that proposes that human knowledge and cognition do not just come from the individual, but from external, distributed environmental factors such as computers, objects, data, tools, and other individuals. (American Heritage Dictionaries, 2007, 1)
Distributed Cognition and Distributed Learning can be engaged at the same time, while distributed learning takes place as individuals continue to evolve, that evolution often takes place as individuals begin to "share one mind. Jazz improvisation presents a potent example. A musician can play what is written on the pages of the musical score. Several musicians practicing a particular piece to hone individual and collective talents is at the essence of collaborative learning. All while working together with a goal to share one musical thought.
Frnak Barret (1998) discusses seven characteristics that allow a jazz bands to “improvise coherently and maximize social innovation in a coordinated fashion.”
1. Provocative Competence – Deliberate efforts to interrupt habit patterns
2. Embracing errors as a source of learning
3. Shared orientation toward minimal structures that allow maximum flexibility
4. Distributed task – continual negotiation and dialogue toward dynamic synchronization
5. Reliance on retrospective sense-making
6. “Hanging out” – Membership in a community of practice
7. Taking turns soloing and supporting.
Jazz improvisation provides all of the necessary tools for individuals to be collaborative while learning and more importantly begin to become one “collective conscience.” The interchange between a soloist and the rhythm section is critical The pianist, bassist, and drummer must work together and communicate often non-verbally to achieve a heighten awareness of the music. This allows the solist to take musical risks with timbre, notation, rhythm and tempo; all done with the knowledge of a structure lying underneath. “Paul Desmond said that the improviser must crawl out on a limb, set one line against another and try to match them, bring them closer together.” (Barrett)
The key to improvisation is fearlessness and spontaneity once the musician is no longer afraid to fail that is when learning takes place. Jazz improvisation at its core welcomes “errors”, a misplayed note in orchestral music sticks out like a sore thumb; whereas in jazz improvisation, a misplayed note is an opportunity for the community (band members) to parley with one another.
Jazz musicians work off of each other and respond to each other on a continuum, at times mirroring the melody or harmony between two melodic instruments or rhythmically between a melodic instrument and percussionist. When a musician begin to solo, a reflective moment becomes available to the other members, allowing them to gather in new information to be used in their own solo or as an accent to featured musician.
Most importantly jazz improvisation provides a time of camaraderie, individuals working together towards a collective goal of sustained intensity. As musicians work together as band over time habits and rituals develop amongst the members and commonalities begin to surface that allows the musicians to work as once and produce something greater than they could on their own.
3. Comparison to other Processes
1. Compared to Cooperative Leaning/Work
2. Compared to Individual Learning/Invention
Distributed Learning differs from other learning styles in a variety of ways. Distributed learning and Individual learning seem similar in the sense that the individual student is working alone, while the distributed learning is seemingly alone but the event is actually not an isolation event. With distributed learning, a student has access to people more easily and often via email, chat and IM. In individual learning, the student only has access to other people when he/she is in the classroom. Likewise, with cooperative learning it would seem you would have more access to people but actually you have limited access. Both cooperative and individual learning take place in a designated place for a certain amount of time. With distributed learning, there are no time or physical constraints.
Distributed Learning and Distance Learning are often closely compared and sometimes seen as one and the same. Distance Learning, however, refers to the method of learning, such as an asynchronous method or a learning method from various sources or locations. Distance Learning can be conducted by a single individual. On the other hand, Distributed Learning more often involves a group of individuals or elements communicating in multiple paths within an environment or between environments. Arguably, Distance Learning can be done by a single individual within their environment, whereas, Distributed Learning heavily leans toward working through a variety means such as computers, objects, data, tools, and other individuals. (American Heritage Dictionaries, 2007, 1)
Let us compare distributed learning with asynchronous learning networks. Some online classes will post assignments, tests, quizzes etc on web pages. This is not considered asynchronous learning as it does involve interaction among students which is identifiable in distributed learning. Asynchronous learning requires teachers and student-collaborators to be online at the same designated time. It also involves some intense face-to-face interaction such as University of Illinois and Pepperdine's online Masters' program which require an initial face-to-face time before online instruction begins. Asynchronous learning allows for the creation of learning communities which is hand in hand with the concept of distributed learning. (Hiltz pg 28-30)
4. Contrasting to other Processes
1. Contrasted to Individual Learning/Invention
2. Contrasted to Cooperative Learning/Work
3. Contrasted to distributed Cognition
Distributed Learning contrasts with individual learning in that there are external stimuli from multiple sources, that help the individual to learn. In individual learning, the learning "spark" comes from within a single individual's mind, a teacher, or a very small group. Because of the variety of environmental stimuli and brainstorming encouraged through Distributed Learning, the problem of isolation or "group think" is avoided (The American Heritage Dictionaries, 2007, 2).
The contrast between distributed learning and the classical information-processing view. Information processing view is one in which information is entered, processed, transformed and then an output is produced. (Gluck, pg. 177) With distributed learning, it is the opposite in which many methods are used and individuals are encouraged to seek knowledge from any and all sources, not rely solely one source.
We need an example of DL contrasted to Coop-L
To contrast Distributed Learning with Distributed Cognition: Distributed Learning is a method or variety of methods, places, objects (animate and inanimate) through which individuals learn. Distributed cognition, on the other hand, is a (the mental thought process) framework, (not a method), for distributed learning, (Hutchins). Distributed Cognition happens when more than one individual is working on a thought, or pattern of thought. Once they have moved on or separated from the group DC stops at that point.
5. Outcomes and Evaluations
Benefits distributed learning include the following:
Learners gain a greater degree of control of how, when, and where their learning occurs. They also increase their level of responsibility for their own learning and are no longer passive receptacles of information and knowledge.
Faculty gain greater ability to organize and design environments that maximize learning opportunities and more freedom to experiment with effective new learning modes.
The university gains greater ability to allocate resources for learning opportunities. "An abundance of research shows that alternatives to the traditional semester-length classroom-based lecture method produce more learning. Some of these alternatives are less expensive; many produce more learning for the same cost."(Steven Saltzberg and Susan Polyson), (1995)
Distance Learning “…can also provide beneficial features that are not easily replicable in classroom instruction such as immediate feedback…” (Stizman, Kraiger, Stewary & Wisher 2006)
Distance learning can also be used to supplement regular classroom instruction and is “…more effective than stand-alone classroom instruction…” (Stizman, Kraiger, Stewary & Wisher 2006)
Another way to refer to distance learning is the term ‘web based instruction’ or WBI. In the meta-analysis done by Stizmann, Kraiger, Stewart and Wisher, they examined the effectiveness of WBI as compared to normal classroom instruction and compared their effectiveness of delivery on the same topic. This meta-analysis found “…WBI is 6% more effective than classroom instruction for teaching declarative knowledge.” The study also addressed Web-based learning used to supplement face-to-face instruction (WBI-S). The study found that “…WBI-S was more effective than stand-alone classroom instruction…” Additionally, “WBI-S was 13% more effective than classroom instruction for teaching declarative knowledge and 20% more effective than classroom instruction for teaching procedural knowledge.”
American Heritage Dictionaries, Answers Corporation, (2007). Defintion: Distributed Cognition. Retrieved July 30, 2007 from
Barr, R.B. and J. Tagg (1995). From teaching to learning - A newparadigm for undergraduate education. Change, 27(6), 13-25.
Barrett, F. (1998). Creativity and Improvisation in Jazz and Organization Implications for Organizing Learning. Organization Science, Vol. 9(No. 5), 605-622.
Clark, A., 1997, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Dede, Chris, (2004). Enabling Distributed Learning Communities Via EmergingTechnologies--Part One and Part two, T.H.E. Journal: Technological Horizons in Education, Sep./Oct. 2004. Vol. 32, Iss. 2 and 3, pp. 12,16,18,20,22, 16-26.
Directory of Education, Definition: Distributed Learning. Retrieved July 30, 2007, from
Edutopia. Success Stories for Learning in the Digital Age, (2002). p. 2, 29.
Gureckis, T. & Goldstone, R., (2006). Thinking in Groups: Pragmatics & Cognition. Vol. 14, Issue 2, p. 293-311.
Gluck, Kevin A. Modeling Human Behavior with Integrative Cognitive Architectures: Comparison, Evaluation and Validation. 2005
Hiltz, Starr Roxanne. Learning Together Online: Research on Asynchronous Learning. 2004
Hutchins, Edwin, (1995). Cognition In The Wild, MIT Press.
Kirsh, David, (2006). Distributed Cognition: A methodological note. Pragmatics & Cognition Vol.14, Issue 2, p. 249-262. 7. World Wide Learn, (1998). The World's Premiere Online
Steven Saltzberg and Susan Polyson (1995). Distributed learning on the World Wide Web. Syllabus, Sept. 95.
Stizman, Traci, Kraiger, Kurt, Stewart, David & Wisher, Robert, The Comparative Effectiveness of Web-Based and Classroom Instruction: A Meta-Analysis, Personnel Psychology (2006) #59, pages 623-664
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