Why do our Theories Matter?


  • Rick Shearer Pennsylvania State University




Educational Theory, Theories of Distance Education


All too often in our practice of distance education we overlook the history of the field and our theories as we embrace new technologies or, as in the past year, when we are forced to adapt to a regional or global crisis that necessitates a temporary move to a remote learning scenario. When we set our theories aside, this approach can lead us to recreate the wheel in our pedagogical approaches, and ignores the unique pedagogy of distance education and the unique characteristics of learners studying at a distance.

This article looks at why our distance education theories continue to be critically important for us to constantly return to and reflect on. Our theories help us to keep focused on the learner, learner characteristics, and the individualised nature of learning, while we undertake design and development work in partnership with faculty and other members of the design team. Our distance education theories remind us to ask the hard questions about what we are trying to accomplish and to what end for the learner, and through which design strategies.

Author Biography

Rick Shearer, Pennsylvania State University

Dr. Rick L. Shearer has been involved in the field of distance education for more than 35 years and has
witnessed the evolution of the field from print to online. He recently retired from his previous
administrative role as Director of Research with the World Campus and is currently an adjunct faculty
member with Lifelong Learning and Adult Education at Pennsylvania State University.