The Distributed Classroom

A vision of the future of education in which the classroom experience is distributed across space and time without compromising learning.

The Future of Education

What if there were a model for learning in which the classroom experience was distributed across space and time–and students could still have the benefits of the traditional classroom, even if they can’t be present physically or learn synchronously? In this book, two experts in online learning envision a future in which education from kindergarten through graduate school need not be tethered to a single physical classroom. The distributed classroom would neither sacrifice students’ social learning experience nor require massive development resources. It goes beyond hybrid learning, so ubiquitous during the COVID-19 pandemic, and MOOCs, so trendy a few years ago, to reimagine the classroom itself.

David Joyner and Charles Isbell, both of Georgia Tech, explain how recent developments, including distance learning and learning management systems, have paved the way for the distributed classroom. They propose that we dispense with the dichotomy between online and traditional education, and the assumption that online learning is necessarily inferior. They describe the distributed classroom’s various delivery modes for in-person students, remote synchronous students, and remote asynchronous students; the goal would be a symmetry of experiences, with both students and teachers able to move from one mode to another. With The Distributed Classroom, Joyner and Isbell offer an optimistic, learner-centric view of the future of education, in which every person on earth is turned into a potential learner as barriers of cost, geography, and synchronicity disappear.

About the authors.

David Joyner is executive director of Online Education & OMSCS in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing and the inaugural holder of the Zvi Galil PEACE (Pervasive Equitable Access to Computing Education) Chair. He has authored over 50 papers and three books on online learning and CS education. He teaches five online classes reaching over 3,000 students per semester, and he has received several awards for his work in teaching online, including the 2022 College of Computing Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award, the 2019 USG Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for Online Teaching, and the 2018 Georgia Tech Center for Teaching & Learning Curriculum Innovation Award. He has served as the chair of the ACM Learning @ Scale conference steering committee, as well as the conference’s General Chair in 2019, 2020, and 2024.

Charles Isbell is the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Prior to this appointment and at the time of authorship, he was the John P. Imlay Jr. Chair and Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. His research passion is artificial intelligence, and in particular, he focuses on applying statistical machine learning to building autonomous agents that must live and interact with large numbers of other intelligent agents, some of whom may be human. As Executive Associate Dean, Isbell oversaw the implementation of the college’s online Master of Science in Computer Science program, and continued to teach two classes in the program during his tenure as dean.