and Distance Learning —Lessons and Issues
has long been recognized as a critical mechanism for achieving
development goals. In expanding access to education, one of the most
significant challenges has been finding appropriate delivery methods.
The cost of traditional educational delivery, as well as the distance
from schools and training centres, prohibits many people from
for Development: ODL Roots
the last quarter of the 20th century, open and distance
learning (ODL) emerged as a viable means of broadening educational
access for people who could not spend whole terms in classrooms. With
the introduction of ODL programs, other aspects of education were
also re-considered and re-designed, including admissions policies,
enrolment systems and support, learning resources and experiences,
the role of instructors, and the place for alternative educational
practices in ODL have several commonalties in terms of management and
approach. Where it has flourished, ODL has:
defined target students and an understanding of their needs and
encouragement of innovative strategies to provide educational
experiences and resources, along with funding and infrastructure;
of people, including teachers, instructional designers, and
administrators, using their creativity to re-design educational
experiences, monitor progress and make continuous improvements;
of local educational culture, and efforts to gain local academic
acceptance for this non-traditional educational approach.
the 21st century, the lessons learned from earlier ODL
experiences are being applied across educational sectors at all
levels. A wide variety of educational programs are incorporating
aspects of ODL. Meanwhile, ODL is continuing to evolve, using
information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance learning
resources and improve communications and delivery. The introduction
of appropriate ICT can also support social aspects of learning, and
this can be particularly important when students lack sophisticated
Policy and Management
success of ODL programs depends on management policies and
initiatives that are sensitive to the needs of learners, while also
addressing wider acceptance in the academic community. This requires
re-thinking of policies and practices that are the convention in
traditional classroom-based education.
in management come at the institutional level; however state and
national policies can help or hinder effective ODL policy development
within institutions. At all levels, policy development and management
of ODL programs must accommodate changes in ODL practices. Among the
most significant changes in ODL is the expanding and evolving use of
information and communication technologies (ICT). The use of ICT is
blurring the traditional boundary between ODL development and
delivery. It is also changing the division of labour in terms of the
individuals required to design, develop, and deliver programs, and
their roles in ODL. This has an impact on how ODL is managed within
institutions. Additionally, there is an increasing emphasis on the
social component of learning, which is an area that has often been
neglected when the focus of policies and management have been on
learning resources and quality control.
makes ODL successful and sustainable?
in ODL refers to instructional delivery processes that provide more
control to learners in terms of when, where, and how they access
education and training. In addition to offering access without the
traditional constraints of time-tables and location, open access
allows greater flexibility with regard to entry qualification and
formal requirements for entry. Thus, learners who are traditionally
disadvantaged in terms of the openness and accessibility of
education, have greater opportunity for success given the services
and flexibility of ODL programs.
ODL programs also recognize the importance of fostering equity
through both the delivery and design of curriculum. Equity extends to
ensuring that all those who are admitted to ODL courses or programs
have a good chance of success. Students who have not followed
traditional academic and training paths are more likely to achieve
success if the educational programming and conditions accommodate
their backgrounds, life circumstances, and aspirations.
of ODL initiatives often indicate large enrolment numbers and large
numbers of graduates over time. However, these figures might not
disclose the number of learners who enrolled in courses or programs
but did not acquire the appropriate learning. Failure and drop-out
rates might also be under-reported. How should ODL programs be
monitored and evaluated? Should we be measuring success in terms of
proportionate persistence and achievement?
should be monitored and measured, and what does the information tell
vital elements of successful ODL programs are the quality of learning
resources and the efficacy of delivery mechanisms. However, given
that students might have limited access to support from teachers and
other learners, the social aspect of ODL also deserves attention in
education for development. While experienced students with good
learning skills might succeed in ODL conditions that provide only
limited contact with instructors and other learners, the drop-out
rate in ODL is troubling. Students with less experience in academic
education and training are the main constituency for ODL in
development. Thus, in order for education to assist in the
achievement of development goals, it is vital to address social
aspects of learning. Students require access to appropriate and
adequate support and social contact in order to decrease drop-out
rates and increase successful course or program completion.
frank, and assiduous monitoring and evaluation are critical to
effective management of ODL programs. The results of monitoring and
evaluation should be used to implement improvements that better
ensure the long-term success of ODL initiatives. Some considerations
for conducting monitoring and evaluation programs are as follows:
often should the monitoring and evaluation process be assessed for
effectiveness and appropriateness?
monitoring identifies problems, how much effort should be put into
changing processes or practices in order to solve the problems, and
what efforts should be made to monitor the results of the changes?
is easy to monitor enrolment and graduation rates, but is this
appropriate information to indicate the success of education and
training programs? It is much more challenging to assess the success
of graduates, but will this information better inform education for
of our knowledge of what works in ODL is contributed by teachers and
administrators who systematically research their own practice. How
can institutions take advantage of the knowledge gained by
practitioners, and apply that knowledge to improve policy and
practice in broader ODL applications? How can ODL experts within
organizations and institutions work with teachers and program
administrative staff to develop practice based research skills and
find audiences for their knowledge?
and distance learning, in particular, can provide new challenges for
instructors and the need to adapt to new teaching approaches or
methodologies. Just as students require guidance and support with
learning, teachers also benefit from guidance and support when they
are confronted with the need to change or adapt to new teaching
approaches. There are a variety formal and informal tools and
strategies to assist instructors in their professional development.
Support and guidance can also come from the sharing of experiences
with other teachers who have faced similar situations. Many
instructors will then build on the experiences of others in order to
master new teaching and learning approaches.
differs from traditional learning environments in the participants
who develop and facilitate educational programs. Academic experts
(who may have no experience in ODL), are teamed with instructional
designers and media experts to develop learning resources. Typically,
it is tutors who engage with students and help them use the learning
many ODL systems, even if there is emphasis on the quality of
learning resources, tutors seldom get much training, or their
training is limited to the routine teaching and administrative
aspects of their jobs. Given increasing emphasis on providing rich
learning experiences and supporting the social component of
education, does this change the professional development needs for
tutors and teachers?
many programs, there are insufficient numbers of resource people to
help tutors and teachers to master ODL teaching and delivery methods,
yet educators often value guidance from colleagues. Beyond practise
based research, can academic experts and tutors in ODL help one
another to develop professionally?
and Learner Support
any initiative to improve teaching and support practices (and
learning outcomes), engaging tutors, who have direct experience with
learners is most productive. With their direct student contact,
tutors play a critical role in guiding both the social and
intellectual or academic aspects of education and training.
Therefore, tutors can provide valuable insight to assist in refining
and improving instructional design and delivery approaches in ODL.
addition to the diffusion of teaching and tutoring expertise through
mentoring and support of professional colleagues, what can these
front line educators learn from students? Students too can be a
valuable source of information and feedback to help ODL program
designers, academic experts, and tutors to improve course and program
is also ample evidence that learners support other learners, and this
another aspect of ODL design and delivery that warrants attention.
ODL educational programmers assume that the resource materials in
which they have invested so heavily do the teaching. While program
design is critical, facilitating support for teachers, tutors,
learners, and learning communities is vital in order to build on the
foundations of ODL and achieve education and development goals.