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An Interview With Reggie Smith III, President of the United States Distance Learning Association

By Lisa Gualtieri, Reggie Smith / March 2010

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Public policy is what will make distance learning truly mainstream, increasing access to education and training opportunities.

Reggie Smith III, president of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), believes that these transformative changes are just around the bend, and he is working to make them a reality. The USDLA is a non-profit association that advocates for the development and application of distance learning across the board, from children's schooling to employee training.

I have known Smith since our days as e-learning consultants at EDS, and caught up with him to ask about his new role. —Lisa Gualtieri

Lisa Gualtieri: What does the USDLA, do and how has it evolved from its roots?

Reggie Smith: Our mission is to serve the distance learning community by providing advocacy, information, networking, and opportunity. We help people stay connected and ahead of trends in learning—distance learning, e-learning, mobile learning, computer-based training, web-based training, instructor-led training, online training, online learning, blended learning, classroom training, webinars, and much more.

USDLA has evolved over time as the industry has changed. Its roots are the same, but we've expanded in new areas to connect members and deliver value in the blended learning economy.

LG: What do you do as president?

RS: Wow... what a long list. Our sponsors and members are operating in and influencing 46 percent of the $913 billion U.S. education and training market. I generally work day-to-day with members and sponsors to connect with each other in support of our overall USDLA mission. From the board of director's side, I can establish one or more standing or ad-hoc committees and appoint its chairperson, and I act as chairman for all executive committee meetings and serve as a voting member.

I also work hands-on with each committee while adjusting and executing our strategic and operational plans in support of our members.

Distance learning can provide access to advanced placement (AP) courses and international baccalaureate (IB) programs for school children, connect higher education students globally to the best content around, and transform the lives and careers of working adults.

It's a busy job, but I really enjoy meeting members while empowering them to develop and advocate distance learning globally.

LG: What were the main accomplishments of USDLA in 2009?

RS: We were busy in 2009! We sponsored National Distance Learning Week, with thousands of participants; launched a new website that has seen more than 27 million hits; launched our social networking sites via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and an internal members-only site with introNetworks; and held our national conference and awards program, which included a webcast. We also began to work in a more collaborative manner with our chapters and affiliates to facilitate a better value and support system across state, national, and global levels.

In 2010, we plan to raise the bar even more. We plan to hold our National Conference (May 2-5, 2010) both in-person and virtually; provide a webcast of our 2010 International Awards program; release the new sixth edition of Instructional Media Selection Guide for Distance Learning: Implications for Blended Learning and Virtual Worlds [PDF], by Holden, Westfall, and Gamor; hold a national public policy forum in Washington, D.C. in September; celebrate National Distance Learning Week in November; hold our next International Forum for Women in E-Learning in December; and work even closer with the Obama administration to support distance learning in our schools, universities, community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to name a few.

LG: With unlimited time, staff, and budget, what would you like your main accomplishments to be in 2010?

RS: It would be to provide a college-level education for everyone, globally. Or maybe run a few distance learning commercials via the Winter and Summer Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and other top viewership-rated programs to inform the world that distance learning has the power to transform their lives while connecting and sharing collective knowledge for all humankind unlike anything seen before.

You asked! I do dream big and in high-definition! And if any of your readers wish to help (fund) me take this one on, they can contact me directly via email or by phone on +1-800-275-5162.

LG: How does the USDLA influence and collaborate with other organizations around the world?

RS: First, we connect and support each other as we identify new ways to support various missions and initiatives. Second, via our Global Affiliate Chapters, we identify how to help other organizations fulfill the needs of their constituents and encourage their participation in USDLA meetings, conferences, and activities.

USDLA's Global Affiliate Chapters represent global affiliates of the United States national association, and they are an international resource for the promotion, development, and application of distance learning for educating and training. Third, we support organizations in the distance learning community by providing advocacy (public policy support), information (websites, emails, publications), networking (social networks, National Distance Learning Week, conferences) and opportunity (state, national, and global affiliations).

Finally, we appoint leaders from around the field to our advisory board to help advise our chapters, partners, and board of directors, which helps us stay on a continuous path of improvement and outreach.


  • Fri, 02 Jul 2010
    Post by Masters degree

    "A recent survey of popular nail care product manufacturers conducted by the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance (the Alliance) showed that 74 percent of the companies surveyed do not use toluene, formaldehyde or dibutyl phthalate in their polish. These three ingredients, nicknamed the toxic trio, have been linked to asthma, cancer, and reproductive problems in peer-reviewed studies.

  • Wed, 26 Aug 2009
    Post by Kevin Handy

    As of September of 2009 I am attending my fourth online school. I am a student of instructional design. I am enrolled at Argosy University Online's Organizational Leadership program. In 2005 I completed American Intercontinental University's online MBA program in project management. After that I tried Capella University - and left and then Walden University and now AUO. Walden University's online Teacher Leadership program is good - for teachers - but I consider myself an adult learning instructional designer and developer. Nearly all of these programs are asynchronous - and they have to be. I have been largely unimpressed with instructional design in university environments in general. I think that ID is nearly an afterthought. John Sweller's pioneering work on memory is largely ignored. The e-Learning is much-ado-about-nothing page turner stuff. The threaded discussions are often taken far too seriously. Also another disturbing trend is that many of the courses are six to eight weeks in duration. At the graduate level this is far too little time for meta-cognition. In other words a learner does not have time for it to sink in. Some schools are moving from printed texts to digital text versions. Sadly the eTextbooks are not all media rich. Again boring, uninterrupted text. Somehow once we become adults we are supposed to be proud of wanting to be bored to tears. I demur. If anything adults need learning that is more media rich to drown out the din of daily of daily life. A continuation of the traditional classroom in a digital environment is no solution. We need more creative ways of capturing the learner's attention. And threaded discussions are just so...1980's. Multimedia without good ID is useless but online learning that is nearly completely text based with a few graphics is also not useful. I think people need to read a bit of Ruth Colvin before they design e-Learning and LCMS for adult learners at the university environment. So a student...and a professional I do not see the evidence.

  • Thu, 09 Jul 2009
    Post by Darren K. Stocker

    I found this article ws able to touch many of the facets related to online/distance learning. Part of the learning process requires the steps in locating a program that is suiable to the learner as well as providing a valuable education. There is no "on-fit" program. It appears as though Ms. Unrein was able to capyure that in her writing.