The Distributed Teacher by Dr. Jon Dron (Keynote Speaker)

by Kurt Rutter (2016 TCC Guest Blogger)

Photo of Dr. Jon Dron

Dr. Jon Dron

Dr. Jon Dron is co-author with Dr. Terry Anderson  of Teaching Crowds: Learning and  Social Media (AU Press), an OER text on the origins and impact of social media on learning,  the rise of collective learning spaces, and the disruptive effect that is having on the traditional industrial model of education (Dron & Anderson, 2014). Dr. Dron discussed the meaning of “distributed learning” and what it really means to be a teacher in a true distributed learning environment.

So, what is distributed learning?

Distributed Learning is defined in different ways. Some authors describe any online course as “distributed” while others refer only to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as distributed courses, while others consider using Open Educational Resources (OER) to be the hallmark of a distributed course (Jones et al., 2014; Skrypnyk et al., 2015; Kim, Lee, Lee, & Shon, 2015). To Dr. Dron, distributed learning is learning that is not centered on one person but is in fact distributed throughout our environment in the social and physical artifacts of our society. Dron uses the example of the Boeing passenger aircraft that was safely crash landed in the Hudson River without injury to passengers or crew after the plane flew into a flock of Geese. Pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed the plane, but it was not just him. An array of inventions, devices, and people, most of whom are unaware of each other, who made it possible. Anyone who had anything to do with the aircraft development, manufacture, navigation, or service also played a crucial role in making this happen, including all the times it did not work out so well. Likewise, learning occurs in an environment with good examples, bad examples, successes and failures.

Extrinsic motivation crowds out Intrinsic motivation

A developer of learning management systems (LMSs), Dron asks why we are making learning management systems that simulate a bricks and mortar classroom, and then enforcing most of the same constraints that we have traditionally applied, because we at one time had no choice? At one time there were boundaries in space and time – the distance that a human voice can carry was the size a class could be. Originally the term “Lecturer” just meant someone who could read one of the very scarce books, as opposed to everyone else who could not. That is not the world we live in today. A majority of courses today are out of step with the learning needs of the community. The community needs to learn in an environment of cooperative freedoms, a conceptual framework developed originally by Morten Paulsen. Self determination in learning  figures centrally in Dr. Dron’s conception of learning frameworks  and he referenced  a website for more information,

S. Barrett recommended and Dr. Dron endorsed Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn,about ways of manipulating behavior that destroy the potential for real learning.

Typical online courses today give freedom in place and time (for asynchronous courses), this is not true distributed learning but only a grudging accommodation. The true role of a teacher in a fully distributed course is

  • Co-traveller
  • Friend
  • Adversary
  • Inspiration
  • Role Model
  • Anti-model
  • Cartographer
  • Path-clearer
  • Trendsetter
  • Thought leader
  • Fool

An example of a step along the road to achieving the cooperative freedoms is Athabasca Landing- developed by the community of Athabasca University from the ground up rather than the top down, which created a rich, if somewhat mash-upped, site that blends informal and formal learning and social interaction.


Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media. Edmonton, AB: AU Press. doi: 10.15215/aupress/9781927356807.01

Jones, G., Warren, S. J., Ennis-Cole, D., Knezek, G., Lin, L., & Norris, C. (2014). Transforming the Doctorate from Residential to Online: A Distributed PhD Learning Technologies. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 58(4), 19–26.

Kim, B. W., Lee, W. G., Lee, B. R., & Shon, J. G. (2015). Influencing Factors in OER Usage of Adult Learners in Korea. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(2), 1–17.

Paulsen, M. (n.d.). Cooperative Online Education. International Journal of Media, Technology & Lifelong Learning (Online Journal), 4(2). Retrieved from

Skrypnyk, O., Joksimovic, S., Kovanovic, V., Gasevic, D., & Dawson, S. (2015). Roles of Course Facilitators, Learners, and Technology in the Flow of Information of a cMOOC. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(3), 188–217.

Kim, B. W., Lee, W. G., Lee, B. R., & Shon, J. G. (2015). Influencing Factors in OER Usage of Adult Learners in Korea. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(2), 1–17.

Editor’s note:

A recording of Dr. Dron’s presentation may be viewed online at:


Click RECORDING link.

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