Distributed Learning: What's in a word?

At its root, Distributed Learning is any type of learning where time, place and/or pace are flexible. It is a model where students, often with the support of technology, are in control of when, where and how they they access their learning. They have the flexibility to accelerate learning already mastered or take additional time on areas they struggle with.  They have access to teachers, learning resources, peers and other experts when they need it. The student chooses the best time and place to do this. Indeed, looking at server logs we find that the busiest time for our students to access online learning is as late as 11pm from home!


Recently we asked a group of students who access distributed learning how they felt it best supported their learning. We took their feedback and fed it into a Word Cloud generator - a program that takes the written feedback and identifies words that occur most often.  Not surprisingly, you notice that pace is by far the most common term in the 88 responses to the survey. Time, help, access from home are also significant.

It isn’t a big surprise that students appreciate the flexibility afforded by distributed learning. We know that students learn in a variety of ways and paces. In fact this is is one of the core principles to provincial initiatives for re-inventing high school.



In Foothills School Division, Distributed learning has many faces.


1. The Hub

The Hub is a flexible learning program that exists within our current High school structure. Each of our high schools has at least one classroom dedicated to Hub programming and is staffed with two or more teachers.  These seven teachers work as a unit to meet the needs of their students.  Between the 3 high schools we have specialists for the 38 courses we currently offer. These include High School Mathematics, Sciences, Social Studies, English and Calm. We also offer programming in Physical Education, and General and Personal Psychology. At the time of writing, 447 students are taking at least one Hub course.


The majority of our hub students are regular High School Students who have elected to take one or more of their courses through the Hub. Students have one class period for each Hub course they take to work in the Hub classroom. Teachers on site work collaboratively with the subject specialist - who might be at a different school - to ensure students meet with success. Walking into a Hub classroom you’ll see students working at computers, working in groups, sitting with their Hub teachers, video conferencing and/or discussing learning challenges with their peers.  Although each person in the classroom may be working on different course material, structures within the classroom are still there to ensure student success. Teachers work with each student to develop a personal learning plan and hold students accountable to this plan.


2. Off Campus Programming

We also have a number of students who access learning outside the walls of Foothills School Division.  Among these students are returning grade 12 students who need to upgrade or fill in missing courses to apply for post secondary and students who, for a variety of reasons including sports, travel, and mental or physical health challenges are unable to attend their local High School.  Although these students access their learning through our online courseware, they also have regular contact with their teachers via videoconferencing and telephone. A personal learning plan helps set short term targets to ensure that they are on track to complete.


3. Extending the classroom beyond the school day

Many of our face to face classrooms use distributed learning. Tools such as Google Classroom, Moodle and Microsoft OneNote are being used to share resources, provide additional practice and feedback and provide opportunities for students to continue the learning when the day is complete. Technologies such as text to speech and speech to text help to remove barriers to student learning. Powerful tools such as Google Documents allow for collaborative editing and provide flexible opportunities for teachers and peers to give feedback on student learning.  Discussion boards and videoconferencing technologies enable classrooms to partner with other schools both locally and internationally. Hub courseware is being used to meet the needs of students requiring greater flexibility or additional resources for their students.  


4. Dual Credit Programs

Through our partnership with Bow Valley College, some High School students are being given the opportunity to get a jump on first year post secondary programming while gaining credit for high school CTS courses.  These students are typically scheduled into a Hub block where they access the College online courses with the support of Hub teachers.


5. 3rd Party Distributed Learning Services (ADLC)

Kindergarten through Grade 9 students who require this flexibility have the opportunity to access the Alberta Distributed Learning Center (ADLC).  Junior High and Elementary students who are unable to attend school for an extended period of time can access offer both online and print based programming.  This program offers much of the flexibility for students that the Hub can offer in High School.


Ultimately Distributed Learning is about flexibility. Its definition changes with student need and therefore it is fundamentally about placing the student at the center of his or her own learning. In Foothills, we value and support multiple Distributed Learning opportunities to ensure student success.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about any of this.  Yours in learning,


Doug Stevens
Director of Distributed Learning
Twitter: @dstlearn