Exclusive Interview with Mr. Michael Lambert, Executive Director of the Distance Education and Training Council

October 11, 2004

Dr. Saba:
How did you become involved in distance education?

Mr. Lambert:
In my very first assignment as a young Army officer, I reported to the Non-resident Instruction Department of the US Army Quartermaster School in Fort Lee, Virginia.

This was really the Army’s correspondence school for the “QM School, ” and our mission was to create, distribute and service correspondence instruction programs for soldiers world-wide. We specialised in teaching supply, food service and other logistics courses that mirrored what was being taught in the Army classrooms. We had pioneered some new designs for learning at NID, including something we called a SLAB–or a single lesson assignment booklet of about 30 pages–that could be “plugged and played” in dozens of different courses. Each SLAB had a uniform look and each incorporated the latest thinking in instructional systems development, from the use of weighted behavioral learning objects to self check quizzes to simulatations and real world applications of knowledge in a paper test.

I learned a tremendous amount in my nearly two years at the QM School, from preparing instructional objectives to the writing creative examination items to design and layout of content for optimal learning by a distant student.

One lesson really hit home with me: distance education was every bit as educationally effective as classroom-based study. The results of the students on MOS [military occupation tests] tests proved it to me. And distance education could reach a vast audience at a fraction of the cost. I came to appreciate that distance education was among the most powerful educational techniques around, and that it was going to be my chosen profession.

After my discharge from the Army, I applied for a position at the DETC, then called the National Home Study Council, and continued to devote myself to distance learning. It is a decision I have never once regretted.

Dr. Saba:
The field has changed dramatically over the years. How do you see the status of distance education at the present time?

Mr. Lambert:
When I started at DETC over 32 years ago, the correspondence study field had a long, rich tradition of contributions to the advancement of American society. Since 1890, over 135 million people had enrolled in a DETC institution. Before World War II, many DETC institutions were household names. It was the “American Way to Learn.”

But in academia, correspondence study–even when it was being offered by a regionally accredited institution–was considered to be a ‘step child’ in the overall higher education family. While millions of students enrolled in correspondence programs for decades, rank elitism and academic snobbery prevailed.

But in the mid-1990s, there was a “Sea Change.” The Internet came along and the Sloan Foundation and others started to provide some academic respect to learning at a distance. Almost overnight, it was respectable to be a distance learning provider. Name-plate universities launched well-hyped “online degrees.”

Today, distance education is in a new place: it is gaining more acceptance, is developing new traditions of excellence and it is even being taken seriously by our lawmakers in Washington.

Dr. Saba:
What is the mission of Distance Education and Training Council?

Mr. Lambert:
Since 1926, the DETC’s mission has been to promote, by means of standard-setting, evaluation and consultation processes, the development and maintenance of high educational and ethical standards in distance education and training. It does this by operating an accreditation program. The DETC Accrediting Commission has been operating since 1955. It is recognized by the US Secretary of Education and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

DETC’s scope of activitiy includes distance education from the kindergarten through the first professional degree…..there are 85 DETC institutions in 7 countries today. Four government-owned universities in Australia have applied for DETC accreditation, and this is a significant tribute to DETC’s ascendency in the global distance community.

Dr. Saba:
What are some of your annual events and current activities, and how our readers can become involved in them?

Mr. Lambert:
DETC’s website at www.detc.org lists our many activities and publications.

We hold an Annual Conference every April. The next one is in Charleston, SC on April 17-19. All are welcomed to attend.

We also hold a Workshop every October. The next one is at the University of Notre Dame on October 12-13.

We publish newsletters, bulletins, research reports, occasional papers, and handbooks. Our new Course Development Handbook is selling well. It has 14 different authors sharing the “tips of the trade” on distance education. It is available on the Distance-Educator.com website.

Anyone may request to be placed on the DETC mailing list. Simply send your name and address to detc@detc.org

Dr. Saba:
How do you see the future of the DETC in particular and distance education in general?

Mr. Lambert:
I have watched DETC evolve over the years into a world-class accrediting association with a strong list of institutions–old and new.

DETC has done a fine job of positioning itself in the higher education community, it has become a real force for distance education.

I see a very bright future for both DETC and for distance education. The level of new enrollments is very impressive. The kinds of new degree programs being introduced is very exciting.

And as I learned so many years ago in the Army, distance education is a powerful and effective learning method that only keeps improving with age!

Dr. Saba:
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. I am sure our readers will find this interview informative and interesting.