Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
The purpose is, Understand how to create and widen access to education and to improve its quality, utilizing distance education techniques and associated communications technologies to meet the particular requirements of member countries. The agency’s programs and activities aim to strengthen member countries’ capacities to develop the human resources required for their economic and social advancement.
2. 2 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
The Commonwealth of Learning is an international organisation established by
Commonwealth governments in September 1988, following the Heads of Government
Meeting held in Vancouver in 1987. It is headquartered in Vancouver and is the only
Commonwealth intergovernmental organisation located outside Britain.
The purpose of The Commonwealth of Learning, as reflected in the Memorandum of
Understanding, is to create and widen access to education and to improve its quality, utilising
distance education techniques and associated communications technologies to meet the
particular requirements of member countries. The agency’s programmes and activities aim to
strengthen member countries’ capacities to develop the human resources required for their
economic and social advancement. They are carried out in collaboration with governments,
relevant agencies, universities, colleges and other educational and training establishments,
among whom it also seeks to promote cooperative endeavours.
The Chairman of the Board of Governors is Mr Lewis Perinbam, OC; the Commonwealth of
Learning’s President and Chief Executive Officer is Dato’ Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan.
Any part of this document may be reproduced without permission but with
acknowledgement to The Commonwealth of Learning. Commercial use of these materials is
prohibited without the prior written permission of The Commonwealth of Learning.
ISBN 1-895369-91-6
Published by:
THE COMMONWEALTH of LEARNING Telephone: 604 775 8200
1285 West Broadway, Suite 600 Facsimile: 604 775 8210
Vancouver, BC V6H 3X8 Email: [email protected]
Introduction 5
Unit 9: EVALUATION 191
Bibliography 203
4. 4 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
This book is one in a developing series of handbooks for practitioners in Open and Distance
Learning (ODL). The series covers the key roles and functions of ODL systems from the
practitioner perspective. The purpose is to give practitioners advice and guidance about their
tasks, functions and roles, and to enable practitioners to reflect on the critical issues they face.
In this way, the series aims to model good ODL study materials and to provide key study
materials for ODL training. In developing this series, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
seeks to address the needs of ODL for accessible and practical training materials for
professional development. Each handbook can be read in a number of ways – as an
informative text; as part of the materials for a workshop or short training programme; or as
part of an extended training and study programme requiring learners to undertake a
practical project.
COL is interested in hearing how you have used this handbook and in any feedback you may
wish to give, including how you have adapted and added to the handbook, so that we can all
share from each other’s experience. Please send your feedback to Helen Lentell, Educational
Specialist ( Training and Materials Development) (email: [email protected]).
COL would like to thank:
Richard Freeman, author
Pilgrim Projects Limited, Cambridge, UK, for editing and production
Participants at a number of professional development workshops organized by COL and CXC
( The Caribbean Examinations Council) in 2001 and 2002
Participants at the Second Pan Commonwealth Forum held in Durban in 2002, who kindly
agreed to be interviewed by the author
Participants at the ‘Planning and Implementing Open and Distance Learning Systems’
workshop sponsored by COL, UNESCO and The World Bank in Cape Town in December 2002
Dr. Ulrich Bernath, Dr. Bob Butcher, Mr. Thomas Huelsmann and Dr. Som Naidu for their
comments and feedback
Design Study Limited, Mundford, UK, for page design and layout
‘Education is a fundamental human right.’ (UNESCO 2000)
‘It is more than ever clear that open and distance learning will be an important element of future
education and training systems.’ (Moore and Tait, 2002, p.10)
Few would dispute the first statement above, but turning it into a reality is another matter.
This handbook starts from the viewpoint that making this aim a reality depends in turn on
making the second statement a reality.
In the same UNESCO report on progress towards ‘education for all’ the authors noted that
‘more than 113 million children have no access to primary education, 880 million adults are
illiterate, gender discrimination continues to permeate education systems, and the quality of
learning and the acquisition of human values and skills fall far short of the aspirations and needs of
individuals and societies.’ Education for all is far from being achieved in any reasonable time-
frame using traditional methods. As another UNESCO report has noted ‘A developing country
has to find new methods that will dramatically improve both its children’s schooling and its
continuing education system.’ (Moore and Tait, 2002, p.18)
‘There is now widespread recognition that the way forward is to make greater use of open and
distance learning (ODL), whether in the form of print-based distance learning courses, interactive
radio, computer-based learning or web-based learning. These methods offer more education for the
same unit of resource, easier access and higher quality than can be obtained by traditional
methods in countries with poorly financed education systems.’ (Moore and Tait, 2002, p.19)
If there is to be an expansion of the use of ODL methods, that expansion must be based on
three developments:
• the conversion of existing face-to-face educational institutions into dual-mode
institutions, i.e. providers of both face-to-face and ODL education
• the establishment of new ODL institutions
• the development of large numbers of face-to-face teachers into ODL tutors, ODL writers,
and so on.
This handbook (and the others in the same series) provides a resource for senior staff who
will be engaged in planning such developments.
6. 6 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
This handbook has been written for heads of educational institutions, their senior staff and
senior staff of ministries of education who are interested in initiating or extending ODL
The handbook seeks to help you (alone or with your colleagues, depending on
circumstances) to make strategic policy decisions about ODL provision, enabling you to
answer questions such as:
• How can we use ODL to provide better access to education?
• How can we use ODL to provide more education for the same unit of resource?
• Who will be our students?
• Should we set up a new institution or expand an existing one?
• What type of learning materials will we need?
• Who will tutor and support the students?
• What will it cost?
It is important to note that this is not a handbook for course writers or a handbook for tutors
– other handbooks in this series will serve those purposes. It is strictly a handbook for policy
ODL stands for open and distance learning, an amalgam of two approaches to forms of
education that focus on expanding access to learning. It is characterised by two factors: its
philosophy and its use of technology.
Most ODL systems have a philosophy that aims to:
• remove barriers to education
• allow students to study what they want, when they want, where they want.
ODL systems typically use technology to mediate learning; for example:
• printed workbooks
• audio cassettes
• radio
• the web.
There is no one method for providing ODL, so a wide variety of courses are described as
‘open learning’ or as ‘distance learning’. Some typical examples are shown in Figure 1. The
variety is instructive. In some cases (e.g. correspondence courses) students work almost
entirely by themselves; in others (e.g. interactive radio) the work is all done in groups; whilst in
others (e.g. distance teacher training) the students might meet together at intervals. There are
an equally wide variety of purposes to which ODL is put, ranging from primary education to
professional updating to post-school catch-up on the secondary curriculum.
1 Correspondence courses where students study for professional qualifications and degrees.
Interactive radio instruction in primary schools, where classroom-based pupils learn from
studio-based teachers.
Open learning systems using workbooks, study centres and online conferencing to enable
working adults to gain school-leaving qualifications.
4 Web-based courses used to update technical staff in the workplace.
Distance learning courses to upgrade classroom teachers without their having to leave their
From this it can be seen that ODL is a wide-ranging concept, capable of providing education
in many circumstances and myriad forms. It is not a panacea but it is a proven approach to
expanding provision.
We shall now look at some of the evidence of the efficacy of ODL in a bit more detail.
The case for ODL can be argued from many points of view. One of these is to look at its
advantages for students, employers and providers/governments. (Moore and Tait, 2000)
1 Access
For many students the overriding benefit of ODL is that it gives them access to an education
that they would not otherwise have. There can be many reasons why a student may not be
able to access existing provision. These include:
• living a long way from a providing institution, e.g. on a small island there may be no
tertiary college or university; in a large country there may be many people in remote rural
areas who live a very long way from the nearest college or university
8. 8 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
• being unable to travel to a centre, even if it is not very remote, e.g. there may be no
public transport; the students may have family commitments which make it difficult to
leave their homes
• not being free to study at set hours, e.g. shift workers or those who travel a great deal
in their work
• physical disability making travel or classroom attendance difficult, e.g. wheelchair-bound
students; students with severe hearing problems
• overloaded provision, e.g. very large classes, enrolments closed, long waiting lists for
• the course that the student wants is not offered.
ODL is capable of addressing all these issues. It can do so by:
• bringing education to the student, e.g. workbooks, audio cassettes, contact by
telephone or the web
• enabling students to study at times that suit them, e.g. basing the course around a
workbook, a web site or even a personal project enables students to study at times when
they are free
• expanding provision. Because (generally speaking) ODL has lower unit costs than face-
to-face-teaching, more students can be taught for a given fixed budget
• expanding capacity. One severely limiting factor on expanding education in developing
countries is teacher numbers. ODL has proved to be a very effective way of training
• expanding range. Because ODL is usually concentrated in fairly large centres, serving
large populations, it becomes economic to provide a wide range of courses.
2 Flexibility
A second clear benefit of ODL is that it fits better with the complexities of adult life. It offers
flexibility of place and time of study, so enabling students to maintain work and family
commitments whilst continuing to study.
Few adults can afford to stop work in order to study; nor can governments afford to pay
living costs to adult students. So, most of the time, adults have to study and work. Since work
and family commitments vary from week to week, attendance at weekly classes can be a
problem for adults. The more that adults can be freed from fixed, timetabled activities, the
more likely they are to participate in education.
3 More suited to adult learners
A third benefit is that ODL tends to be more student centred than is class-based education.
In lectures and classes, students tend to be the passive recipients of large quantities of
information, much or all of it being unrelated to their own personal experience. The best of
ODL takes a different approach, basing the learning around a wide range of activities, many
of which either make use of the students’ own experiences or encourage them to apply what
they are learning to their work and family life. There is much evidence to suggest that this
approach better fits adults’ preferred ways of learning. (Knowles, 1990; Sutherland, 1997)
Where curricula and methods of learning are better matched to students, students are more
motivated. This leads to higher levels of enrolment, higher completion rates and higher exam
pass rates.
4 Quality and course range
Other benefits to students include the fact that the complex design processes necessitated
by ODL usually result in a higher quality of course than would be found in the classroom. In
addition, ODL providers usually offer a wider range of courses than a single, local institution.
Quality enhancement
Quality is enhanced as a result of the (necessarily) rigorous process that is used to produce
ODL courses. In face-to-face teaching, teachers prepare their own lessons. They have very
limited time in which to do this and are restricted by their own experience and knowledge.
The preparation of ODL courses tends to be a team activity, involving specialists in curricular,
media, writing, design, and so on. Most draft materials are reviewed by a panel of experts and
some materials are tested before use. These processes tend to produce learning materials of
a very high standard. These are then used within ODL systems where tutors are trained in
ODL techniques and monitored and supported by experienced staff. (Such materials may
also be used in face-to-face classes, so raising the quality of traditional education.)
Range extension
The range of courses offered also tends to be greater than is possible in local colleges. Most
ODL is provided by large centres serving big populations. This ensures that even provision in
minority subjects becomes cost-effective.
As can be seen below, this expansion of quality and range is usually achieved at lower unit
costs than for face-to-face teaching.
5 Advantages for school-aged students
Some slight adjustment to these claims needs to be made in the case of ODL for school-
aged students. Programmes at this level usually seek to do one of two things. First, they seek
to offer access where, without ODL there would be no access – this would apply to provision
for children in remote areas where it is uneconomic to build and staff schools. Second,
school-age ODL programmes are sometimes aimed at children in school, with the purpose of
raising the quality of provision. (Murphy et al, 2002, p.4)
Providers and governments see various advantages in ODL.
10. 10 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
1 Cost reduction
Whatever other claims can be made for ODL, its cost effectiveness remains the commonest
reason for its use. The figures are impressive, as is shown below.
There are two basic ways of assessing the cost effectiveness of ODL: cost per student and
cost per graduate; both can be compared to costs for traditional methods.
(Rumble, 1997, pp.134-5)
Cost per student
In a meta-study (i.e. a review of all available research studies on a given topic) of 32
institutions reporting on 62 different ODL programmes, 51 (82%) had lower costs per student
than found in traditional systems. Twenty-five (40%) reported unit costs of half or less per
student than for traditional methods. (Rumble, 1997, pp.136-40)
More recent data for Africa indicates that secondary ODL programmes tend to cost between
one-fifth and one-twentieth of traditional costs with teacher education programmes costing
one-third to one-half of traditional costs. (Murphy, 2002, p.ix)
Cost per graduate
In a separate meta-study of eight institutions reporting on 18 different ODL programmes, 17
(94%) had lower costs per graduate than found in traditional systems. Eight (44%) of these
reported costs per graduate of half or less than for traditional methods. (Rumble, 1997, pp.143-4)
In other words, for a given budget, ODL can provide both more capacity (student places) and
more output (qualified students).
2 Reach
Providers and governments also make use of ODL to reach groups who could not otherwise
be reached. Such provision may not necessarily be cheaper than other methods, but may be
the sole option in certain cases. The classic example of this use of ODL would be distance
learning for children living hundreds of miles from the nearest town or school.
(Moore and Tait, 2000, pp.8,19-20)
However, the cost advantages of ODL mean that the same budget can provide education to
more students, so reach is also increased in this way. Put simply, if a given ODL system has
unit costs of 50% of traditional methods, twice as many students can be taught for the same
1 Integration of work and learning
Many ODL students study to improve their knowledge and skills in relation to their current
employment. Perhaps the largest such group is teachers. ODL has proved to be a very
effective method of upgrading teachers without their having to leave their classrooms – an
important consideration in countries where teachers are a scarce resource. However, even if
taking teachers away from their classrooms were an option, the ODL approach might still be
preferred: teaching skills are better learnt where they can be practised than in lecture halls
and seminar rooms. (Joyce, 1999)
2 Cost-effective training and development
It must be admitted, though, that most employers are attracted to ODL because it costs less
than traditional training and development approaches. Much of the cost saving results from
employees studying in their own time at home rather than in their employer’s time.
(Moore and Tait, 2000, pp.8,19–20)
Although some ODL systems provide courses for school-age children, most systems are
aimed at adult/post-school populations. (Some success has been reported with interactive
radio instruction with primary school children but most secondary school-age provision is
characterised by high drop-out. (Murphy et al, 2002, pp.viiii–ix)
Generally, much more success is reported with post-school ODL programmes as the cost
data above testifies. One group with whom ODL is extensively used is practising teachers
since it enables them to upgrade their skills without leaving the classroom – a critical issue in
countries where teacher numbers are low. (Moore and Tait, 2002, p.9; Murphy et al 2002, p.ix)
UNESCO’s current priorities for the use of ODL are:
• basic education for all. In this area they particularly recommend the use of ICTs
(information and communication technologies) combined with other media such as print
and radio. Teacher training for basic education is seen as a key area for development via
• adult education. Here ODL is seen as the means for increasing access to higher
• renewing and diversifying education systems. In this area, ODL is recommended for
‘sharing information and best practice’ and diversifying conventional educational
provision, particularly in technical and vocational education
• teacher training. ODL is suggested as an effective way of providing in-service teacher
training. UNESCO also recommend that teachers should become ‘proficient in the use of
distance education’
• higher education. In higher education, ODL is recommended both as a means of
increasing access and also as a means of creating ‘high-quality systems of education’
• capacity building. The final UNESCO priority is in capacity building to create staff
capable of building ODL institutions (this handbook is a contribution towards this aim).
(Moore and Tait, 2002)
12. 12 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
The clear benefits that ODL offers can lead to unrealistic expectations of what it can achieve
in the short-term. There are three strong reasons why ODL must not be implemented in a
hurry and why it must not be treated as a short-term solution to long-term problems of
educational provision. We discuss these three reasons below.
Some governments and providers have been tempted to set up new ODL institutions with
huge student number targets for the early years. Whilst the political and social pressures that
underlie such an approach are all too clear, it has to be said that, when ODL is grown too fast
too soon, the risk of failure is high.
Any innovatory provision faces two problems: scepticism and unforeseen problems. There is
only one way to overcome scepticism and that is to ensure success. For this reason, any new
ODL provision is best kept small and best confined to courses and target groups where early
success is most likely to result. For example, starting a new ODL institution around teacher
education is a good way of ensuring early success since teachers are invariably keen,
disciplined ODL students.
The best way to handle unforeseen problems is to keep the new ODL offering as small as is
feasible so that (a) problems that arise can be fixed and (b) such problems will not attract
bad publicity.
The second area in which it is easy to damage the image of ODL is to try to create too many
courses too quickly. When making courses for the first time, most institutions report that the
work was more time-consuming than they had imagined. Whatever the pressures to produce
instant mass education, serious thought has to be given to the rate at which new courses
can be realistically introduced. (Of course, if you can buy in courses, this build-up is less of a
Third, but by no means last, there is the fact that you need to allow time for staff skills to
develop. Running an ODL institution requires a much wider range of skills than running a
school, college or university and, on the whole, you will not be able to recruit people with
these skills. Rather, you will have to develop your own staff to the point where they have the
range and depth of appropriate skills. Realistically, this takes time and it would not be
exaggerating to say that a new ODL institution needs 2–5 years to build up its core staff to
full operating capacity.
The handbook can be used at a number of depths, according to your needs (see Figure 2). As
far as possible, each unit can be used independently of the others and, to a lesser extent
each topic can be used independently of the other topics. Where it is important to refer to
more than one unit or topic at the same time, cross-references have been included in the
Depth of use Use
To get an overview of what is involved in
1 Read the titles of the nine units
setting up an ODL system
To get an overview of the key issues in any
2 Read the introduction to the relevant unit
one aspect of ODL
To get an overview of the key issues in any Read the Issues for decision makers list for that
one topic topic
To begin to answer the questions raised in any Read the detail for that topic. If necessary,
given Issues for decision makers follow up some of the references
We have addressed the handbook to ‘you’. ‘You’ may be a university vice-chancellor, a senior
official in a ministry or the head of a college. Equally, though, ‘you’ may be a group of senior
officials who have decided (or are required) to investigate setting up some new ODL
provision. Whether you are working alone or in a group, the handbook seeks to:
• inform you of the main areas for policy making – these are the nine units of the
• inform you of the key policy questions that you will need to address – these are listed for
each topic under the subheading Issues for decision makers
• provide you with some key data to inform your discussion and decisions
• provide you with some illustrative case-study material to inform your discussion and
We do not imagine that any one person will need to use all the units nor all the topics.
Moreover, if you are working in a group, different members may take a lead on different units
or topics. Broadly, though, we see the handbook being used to:
• make you aware of the issues that you will need to address in making ODL policy
14. 14 P L A N N I N G A N D I M P L E M E N T I N G O P E N A N D D I S TA N C E L E A R N I N G S YS T E M S
• make you aware of what is generally regarded as good ODL practice, even though there
will be times when you may need to take a more pragmatic approach, given your local
• make you aware of some of the practical problems that others have experienced
• provoke discussion along the lines of ‘What would be best in our situation?’ and ‘What is
practicable in our situation?’
This handbook has a brief section on costing. If you need to go into costing in more detail
then you may wish to consult A Guide to Costing in Open and Distance Learning, which is also
published by the Commonwealth of Learning. This covers drawing up a budget, methods of
cost analysis, cost-effectiveness in ODL, and costing educational media. It is accompanied by
25 interactive spreadsheet exercises.
This handbook can be used as background reading or as a source of reference. However, it
can also be used as a means of systematically building the skills needed to plan and manage
ODL systems. If this is your aim in using the handbook, then we suggest that you set yourself
a project based on the handbook units. ‘You’ may be just one person or you might be a small
group who are working together to set up some new ODL provision. Here is one way in
which you could set up a project.
This might be you working alone. This could be the case if you are a teacher and wish to
create a DL version of one of your courses, which you will run and tutor yourself for a small
group of students. There are few other circumstances in which one single person can set up
an ODL course or system.
It is more likely that, to achieve what you have in mind, you will need to work with others.
However, a smaller group is better than a larger one – say three to five people. If you need to
involve others, you can always co-opt them for special tasks or set up sub-groups.
The first task of the group is to decide the aim of the project. This may be huge (e.g. set up an
ODL university) or much more modest (e.g. create an ODL version of our course programme X).
Once you have decided your aim, it is a good idea to set yourself some broad targets for
where you wish to be in one year’s time, two years’ time and five years’ time.
You are ready to find out just what your target students want from you. You should use Unit
1 of this handbook to plan some research, conduct it, analyse it and reach your conclusions.
You may wish to delegate this task to one or more members of your group.
You need to decide just what type of programme(s) you will offer to meet the needs that
you have identified. Unit 2 of the handbook will guide you through all the issues to be
considered. Note that you might decide to start with a simple offer and add further services
at a later date – it is better to start small and do something well than to start on a big scale
and then find that it is too much to manage.
Now your group need to write a business plan (see Unit 3 of the handbook). You may well
want to call in some specialist help for this task, calling on accountants or experienced
business managers.
Once the plan has been written, you need to set aside some time for a full review meeting –
this is the point at which you have to ask yourselves:
• Is our plan feasible?
You will need to consider issues such as:
• Are we being over-optimistic about student numbers?
• Can we really produce the course material in the time that we say we can?
• What would happen if we had 10%, 20% or 30% fewer students?
Only when you have a robust business plan that you are all convinced will work should you
proceed to the next stage.
In this step, you need to work out in some detail the courses you will offer, the nature of the
learning materials that you will use or create, the details of the student support system and the
methods of assessment and credit. You may well want to set up a specialist group for this task.
One way to think of this task is to assume that you are doing two things:
• writing a prospectus for potential students, describing to them just what educational
experience they will receive from you
• writing specifications for:
• course writers
• staff in charge of setting up the tutorial system
• staff in charge of setting up the assessment system.
Units 4–7 of the handbook will guide you through this process.
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You are now ready to write the project plan. This is the plan which sets out how you get from
where you are now to the day the new system starts its teaching. The plan will set out:
• the tasks to be accomplished
• when each task needs to be done
• the resources needed for each task
• who will carry out each task.
It is a good idea to ask an experienced project manager to help you in this task.
Usage of terms varies both within and between countries so we have had to arbitrarily
decide which terms we will use. These are as follows:
Open and distance learning (ODL) is the generic term that we use to cover any type of
learning system that claims to teach by open or distance methods. We have avoided setting
any precise criteria for deciding whether or not particular schemes are or are not ‘open’ or
‘distance’. As will be seen later in the handbook, neither term is well defined in the literature.
Distance learning (DL) is used to refer to systems that regard themselves as distance
learning rather than ODL.
Student. We use the word ‘student’ to refer to any person who makes use of the provision of
an ODL institution. Usually they will be registered as a student but sometimes (as in the case
of, say, radio groups) they may not be. Student is synonymous with learner in this text.
Course. We use ‘course’ to refer to any ODL study offering that a student can elect to study;
for example, a course in basic book-keeping or a course in the use of fertilizers.
Programme. This term refers to a collection of courses that lead to a given qualification. For
example, a teacher education programme may be composed of many separate courses and
the students may be able to choose within the programme exactly which courses they study.
There have been many attempts to define both open and distance learning. A recent
discussion of these terms described them as ‘approaches that focus on opening access to
education and training provision, freeing learners from the constraints of time and place, and
offering flexible learning opportunities to individuals and groups of learners.’ (Moore and Tait,
2002, p.7) The same authors also provide a simple test to decide whether a given approach is
distance education or not, suggesting that you ask the simple question ‘Where [are] the
principle educational decisions made?’ If the answer is ‘In the classroom’ then, they argue, the
system is not distance education. (Ibid., p.22)
To put this handbook into practice requires the management of change in your organisation.
This can be near impossible if handled badly but exciting and rewarding if done well. This
section suggests some steps that you can take to maximise your chances of managing
change successfully.
‘It is vital to have good evaluation evidence so that you can get the staff on your side. You need to
have convincing evidence of the effects on students of what you are doing and you need to feed
this back to the staff. The British Open University made huge use of questionnaires for this
Sir John Daniel
Most people in most organisations are resistant to proposed changes. So, if you announce a
move towards ODL, you should not be surprised if many of your staff appear less than
enthusiastic. In order to overcome this resistance, it is important to first understand why staff
might feel negative about a move towards ODL (or towards any other innovation that you
propose). Below are some of the reasons why they might not welcome your innovation.
Fear of insecurity
Teachers who are used to, and confident about, classroom teaching may recognise that ODL
involves things that they know little about and requires skills that they may not possess. For
example, they may have heard that ODL involves writing materials, tutoring at a distance and
online conferencing. If they have never practised such skills, and if they know little about
them, their natural reaction may be one of panic: ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’
Fear of social loss
One of the attractions of teaching is working with students and colleagues – types of
contact that are much reduced in ODL. For example, a classroom teacher who meets
100–200 students and a wide range of colleagues each week, might, in ODL, find themselves
largely working alone writing ODL materials or marking and commenting on assignments.
For the more socially oriented teachers, this change can lead to a sense of social loss.
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Fear of economic loss
ODL makes much greater use of part-time staff, particularly in tutoring and course writing,
than is usual in face-to-face institutions. Naturally, then, when face-to-face teachers hear of a
move to ODL, they may fear that their full-time jobs are at risk.
Fear of loss of control
Generally, classroom-based teachers have a wide degree of autonomy in their work,
particularly over how they teach, if not over what they teach. ODL necessarily involves a
higher degree of central organisation over both what is taught and how it is taught – this is
implicit in the idea of materials-based learning. Many teachers will see this shift of control as
both a threat and a loss to them.
Fear of the unknown
Anything unknown tends to be feared; people often imagine the worst about an unknown
situation. So, if your staff have no knowledge or experience of ODL, they will tend to fear it.
Fear of loss of influence
We all value our capacity to influence our colleagues and our organisation. Teachers possess
both formal influence (e.g. as a head of a department) and informal (e.g. because their
colleagues respect their ideas and judgement) and these forms of influence become
embedded within the formal and informal systems of the organisation. Any organisational
change (and ODL is one such change) threatens to remove the systems within which a
teacher’s influence has grown, so creating a vacuum within which new influences might
develop. It is natural for teachers to fear that, within this vacuum, influences other than their
own will grow.
Fear arising from incomplete information
All organisations are full of rumours. Rumours grow when information is withheld and die
when it is released. The less information that your staff have of any proposed ODL initiative,
the more (incorrect) rumours will circulate, leaving fear and resentment behind them.
To overcome resistance to your ODL initiative, you need to consider who the stakeholders
are in your organisation and why they might resist the introduction of ODL. Then you can
begin to take active steps to overcome their resistance.
Identifying the stakeholders
Some of the main stakeholders of a typical educational institution are shown in Figure 3. A
useful exercise is to first list the main stakeholders of your institution and then, against each,
to write the main reasons why they might resist the introduction of ODL in your institution.
Internal External
Teachers Government
Students Employers
Senior staff Families of students
Administrative staff Community bodies
Technical staff
Acting to overcome resistance
Once you have identified who might resist and for what reason, you can then plan how to
overcome those resistances. Figure 4 lists some of the main ways of heading off resistance to
change. Essentially these involve applying the following key principles of change
• acknowledge fears – do not deny them
• inform – never withhold information
• champion – collect and distribute information on the benefits of the change, e.g. collect
data from other ODL schemes near you to show how successful ODL can be. Share this
information widely
• consult – always assume that your staff have something to offer, even when they appear
to be negative
• involve – create structures that engage staff in planning and implementing the change,
e.g. task groups and consultative groups
• support – offer support, particularly training and development
• provide opportunities for assimilation – offer training days, offer visits to other providers.
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Fear Methods to overcome that fear
Insecurity about • arrange for staff to visit one or more ODL providers – this will help them to
personal see that people like them have confidence in ODL
• offer staff development – this will help convince them that they too can
master the skills of ODL
• ensure that the changes are not introduced too quickly – allow staff enough
time to learn new skills
Social loss • try to build new structures around existing social structures where possible,
e.g. ask a whole subject department to produce an ODL course
• look for ways to maximise social contact in any new systems
Economic loss • if changes to employment status are necessitated by your ODL plan, admit this
from the start
• start negotiations as soon as possible
• keep unions fully informed
• offer transitional help, e.g. retraining; help with job search
Loss of control • involve staff in creating the new system, e.g. by creating committees, task
groups and so on
The unknown • arrange for staff to experience ODL, e.g.
- arrange visits to another ODL provider
- arrange for staff to take a short ODL course
- arrange for staff to tutor a short ODL course with another institution
• collect evidence of the effectiveness of ODL – try to use evidence from
institutions as geographically close to yours as possible and as similar as
possible in terms of curricular
Loss of influence • ensure that the new structures will make as much use of existing staff as
• consult staff about their responsibilities in the new system
• decide future responsibilities as far ahead as possible
Incomplete • provide regular information updates
• create channels of communication between staff and the core planning group
for ODL
Acting to ensure success
In addition to overcoming resistance there are certain organisational principles that help to
deliver successful change management. Some of the main ones are discussed below.
Use change agents
A change agent is a person whose presence and stature helps to make a particular change
acceptable to others. In choosing a change agent (or agents) you need to identify those
members of your staff who are most admired for their professional expertise by their
colleagues. If these people are seen to lead change, others will follow. When selecting a
change agent, you should look for a person who:
• is a highly respected classroom teacher
• is open to change
• has a record of trying out new ideas
• is listened to and respected by a wide range of staff
• works well with others.
Such a person might be put in charge of a task group to plan all or part of the ODL provision
or they might be asked to run a pilot course.
Address your stakeholders’ priorities
When you create a new ODL system, you are creating a shell into which a wide variety of
courses can be put. At the start, it is important to use that shell for courses and target
audiences that your stakeholders rate as priorities – if you don’t do this, they may lose
interest in what you are doing and, perhaps, withdraw financial and other support.
It is also important to keep stakeholders well informed about progress in developing the
ODL system.
Start small
The larger your initial ODL programme, the harder it will be to overcome the resistances
discussed above, so it is best to start on a small scale. This might mean starting with one
course or with one department. It is also advisable to start with a short course so that you do
not have to wait a long time to find out how well the various parts of your system are
Often, it helps to describe the first course as a pilot since this acknowledges that lessons are
to be learnt from the course before any final decisions are made.
Try to avoid compulsion
Change works best when staff opt in rather than being forced in. If you can start small, you
may be able to use people who volunteer to participate, thus creating a sense that ODL is
something that is a privilege to work on.
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Ensure success
The final general principle is to make sure that your first offering (e.g. a pilot course) is a
success. You need to be able to show that your ODL system works in order to overcome
some of the resistances mentioned above. So, it is important to choose the subject and
target audience of your first course with care. For example, it is better to start with a course
for teachers (who take readily to ODL) than with a course for secondary school pupils (who
are much less motivated than teachers).
Systematic change management
Change management is best done in a planned and systematic way. One approach to this is
to use the seven-step method for change management ( Table 1).
Change step Key questions Comments
1 Identify the Why is the change needed?
What evidence can you present to
convince others?
What would happen if the organisation This may be critically important in
did not change? persuading others
2 Identify Who will resist this change? List all such groups or individuals
and possible
Why might they resist? Make sure you look at the issue from
their point of view
Do not dismiss a point because, in your
view, it is wrong or irrational
3 Consult How will you present the issue to Think of all the options, e.g. one-to-one
people? discussions (for senior colleagues);
debates; presentations; workshops; leaflets
4 Evaluate What realistic options are now open to
options the institution?
5 Plan Who will you involve in the planning? Be clear when you wish to use ‘top-down’
planning and when you wish to use
How will you ensure staff commitment Remember that people are rarely
to the plan? committed to plans that they did not
contribute to
6 Act How will you implement the plan? Will you do it alone? Delegate to another?
Set up a project group? Work through an
existing group?
7 Review and How will you – and all your staff – know What evidence will you need?
learn whether the change is working?
How will you collect it?
How will you react to parts that are not
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‘When Michael Colenso arrived at the UK Open College in 1990, the organisation was in drastic
need of a new direction. Three years of trying to implement the remit given to the college by the
Government had only demonstrated that the remit was too riven with contradictions to ever
work. Change was needed.
The staff expected a new Director to come in and tell them what was to be done. Instead, Michael
Colenso spent the first week talking to every member of staff – senior staff off the premises, all
other staff at their desks, not at his. He just listened.
Then he organised a series of change workshops with each section of the college. Again, he
listened and questioned, waiting until each workshop had convinced itself of the direction in
which the college had to move.
Within three months he had a united staff, confident of where they wanted to go. The change
was made and everyone owned it.’
Richard Freeman
Stage 1
The first stage involved researching government reports for political or economic
indicators that supported the case for ODL; analysing the college's strategic plan which
also expressed need for alternative means of increasing student numbers; and examining
the enrolment data for the various courses to quantify unmet demand.
Stage 2
The second stage involved a one-day strategic planning workshop convened to gauge the
views of external and internal stakeholders (government, private sector and community
representatives, college managers, staff and students). The case for, and strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats in such an initiative, were discussed and the SWOT
analysis and other inputs were used for a draft plan which was then sent to all of the
stakeholders for their feedback. This strategic plan included vision and mission statements,
five objectives for ODL, the performance indicators for these and a statement on who
would be accountable for every one of these tangible signs of progress.
Stage 3
The third stage aimed to gain input from all of the college staff and students. Teaching
departments provided data on courses that could be offered through ODL and the likely
student numbers. Exiting students completed a questionnaire on how they would view
ODL as an option, why they might opt for this mode of study, and their access to and
familiarity with computers and the Internet.
Stage 4
Four pilot ODL programmes were undertaken to provide on-the-job training for staff and
gauge the staff’s capacities and the time, motivation and energy needed for this work. The
programmes were piloted with students to formatively evaluate the content, presentation
and learning activities.
Stage 5
A draft operational plan was now added to the strategic plan. This drew upon all of the
above, the quantitative and qualitative research findings, and set out the means of
implementation, costs and cost benefits of this new form of provision. This was presented to
senior management and all staff for comment, amended and then put into final form for
presentation to Government.
Stage 6
The report was then presented to the Minister of Education and the Finance Minister who
were primarily interested in access issues and costs and cost benefits. The report and the
request for additional funding were accepted by the Government and the college's move
into this area was assured for the following financial year.
Stage 7
A final de-briefing session was organised for all of the stakeholders who had contributed to
the planning and who might be future partners in this enterprise.
Colin Latchem, Samuel Jackman, Prescod Polytechnic, Barbados
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27. UNIT 1 27
Planning new ODL provision should start with the potential students and their needs. This
unit and its three topics introduce you to the issues and methods that arise in this area.
Most ODL systems are established to extend provision to new groups of students. Although
the providing institution may have some knowledge of the potential students, that
knowledge is unlikely to be enough to plan and make new courses.
This first topic surveys the sort of information that it is useful to have in order to begin
planning a new ODL system or course.
In practice, no institution ever has all this information; you need to decide how much you can
afford to collect and then make do with that.
Once you have decided what sort of data you would like to collect, you will need to select
some suitable data collection methods. These will, essentially, be market research methods
and this topic gives a brief survey of the options open to you.
Wider access means a more heterogeneous population. This topic looks at the curricular
issues that might arise from this.
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Before you can plan a new ODL course or set up a new ODL system, you need to identify the
target population that your course or system will serve. Rowntree (1990, p. 40) suggests that
you need to consider four main questions about your potential students: their demographics,
their motivation, their ‘learning factors’ (which we will call study skills) and their subject
1 What is your target population?
2 Why this population?
3 How will you identify the demographics of your target population?
4 How will you identify the motivations of your target population?
5 How will you identify the study skills of your target population?
6 What prior learning are you going to assume for your course(s)?
7 What are the implications of the demographic factors that you have found?
8 What are the implications of the motivational factors that you have found?
9 What are the implications of the study skills factors that you have found?
10 How will you make sure that the students whom you enrol have this prior learning?
You will need to consider such demographic factors as:
• age range – this might affect students’ motivation and prior experience of learning
• gender – in some cultures this may have a significant effect on what needs to be
• employment – are your potential students employed and if so, in what type of work? This
may affect the skills and knowledge that they bring to their studies, their opportunities to
put any new learning into practice and their reasons for studying
• circumstances of students’ learning – for example, whether they can study at home,
have access to a telephone or electricity, and whether they are able to travel to a study
Students’ motivations for learning are important in determining both the curriculum to offer
and the method of learning that will best suit them. Rowntree (1997, p. 85) identifies four
types of motivation:
29. UNIT 1 29
• Vocational – such students are likely to study because they want to get on in work. They
might prefer a practical approach, perhaps including tasks to do at work.
• Academic – these students like learning for its own sake. They might prefer an academic
to a practical approach.
• Personal – these students know why they are studying and what they wish to achieve.
They tend to be well able to succeed in ODL since they are happy to take charge of their
own learning.
• Social – these students may feel isolated in pure distance learning, so you would need to
seek ways of breaking down such isolation; for example, study groups, telephone tutorials
or computer conferencing.
In face-to-face teaching, students with poor study skills can do quite well through the help
that the teacher can give. Teachers in ODL have much less contact with students so student
progress is much more dependent on their own efforts. It follows that study skills are of
particular importance in ODL.
• Planning – students need to be able to plan their study sessions so that they will have
enough time to cover all that has to be learnt.
• Active learning – many students confuse learning with memorising and so fail to
actively engage with their course material. (Whilst good ODL learning materials are full of
activities, the extent to which students make good use of these will depend on how
active they are as learners.)
• Self-assessment – isolated students need to be able to make sensible assessments of
the progress that they are making. If they overestimate their progress, they will work less
diligently than they need to. If they underestimate their progress, they may lose heart and
so stop work.
• Note taking – taking good notes is critical to effective learning. Many ODL students are ill
prepared for note taking; their sole experience is that of copying out teacher-supplied
notes, which may have left them with no capacity to create their own notes.
( There are, of course, many other generic study skills, but the above four are perhaps at a
premium in ODL.)
For some courses, students’ prior learning in that subject may be an important factor in
designing your course. Prior knowledge is most critical in sequential subjects such as maths,
sciences and languages. When planning curricular and writing courses, it is important that all
assumptions about prior knowledge are written down. These assumptions can then be used
in advising students prior to enrolment (see Providing information to students) and in devising
diagnostic tests (see Diagnostic tests).
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In practice, collecting the sort of information that we have outlined above will be
constrained by two factors. First, there is the practicality of actually collecting the data.
Research of this kind costs money and is dependent on the good will of respondents.
Second, there is no point in collecting more data than you can make use of. When you begin
writing course material (or commissioning others to write it for you), there is a limit to the
number of factors about students that can be taken account of. It is important, therefore, to
restrict target population research to essentials.
You may need to use market research in order to get the data that you need for planning
your ODL system. ‘Market research’ just means ‘finding out what people want’. This section
introduces you to some of those methods. The various methods need to be used with care
and common sense since they will not always deliver totally reliable results. For example, in
1987 The Open College (UK) employed market researchers to identify the type and size of
market for its proposed courses. The projections made by the market researchers over-
estimated demand by a factor of well over ten.
1 Before you can begin to plan your ODL system, which of the following do you need more
information about and what sort of data do you need?
• the size of the market
• who the potential students are
• what programmes and courses those potential students want
• the form(s) in which the potential students want their courses/programmes.
2 Which published data might give you what you need?
3 Which data do you think you will need to get from your own research?
4 From which population do you need to collect this data? (In this question we use the
word ‘population’ to mean the precise subset that you wish to research, e.g. young people
aged 18–21.)
5 Which sort of data do you think you can gather using questionnaires?
6 For which sort of data might you need to use depth methods?
7 Who can you contact to give you expert guidance on questionnaire design and
31. UNIT 1 31
You might use market research, for example, when setting up your system (or planning major
changes to an existing system). This will help you to make certain system-wide decisions
such as those shown in the first column of Table 1 below. These questions tend to focus on
issues that will decide which students you wish to attract and how many you wish to attract.
The first question (demographics) will determine the options that you have for your system.
The second question (number of students) is a clear determiner of the size of system that
you might need to set up. For example, if a high proportion of your potential students have
full-time jobs, your system must be one that allows students considerable choice about
when to study. The third question looks at what sort of courses your potential students wish
to study – matching what you offer to what students want is critical in non-compulsory
education. The final question looks at the type of provision that you might offer. There are
many approaches to ODL, not all of which suit all student populations.
Issue Typical questions
Numbers • how many potential students are there?
• where do they live?
What are the demographics of potential • how old are they?
• are they employed/unemployed?
• what is their level of education?
What courses/programmes do potential • what levels?
students seek?
• what subjects?
What type of provision do potential students
• open access?
• continuous enrolment?
• pure DL?
• DL plus local centres?
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Once you have made these system-wide decisions, you may also need data to help you make
decisions about individual courses or programmes, using questions such as those in Table 2.
In ODL these questions are often answered during piloting or developmental testing. We will
look at these later in this handbook.
Issue Typical questions
What is the best format for the course? • print?
• print plus other media?
• web-based?
What is the best approach for the course? • didactic?
• exploratory?
• problem-based
Do our draft materials work? • do students learn from them?
• do they like them?
• how long does it take students to study
the materials?
‘You need to identify and define your market opportunity. Many new institutions are set up on
the assumption of some kind of market but you must look at needs and opportunities. If you do
not, you run the risk of making investments in hardware and software that are not needed. The
British Open University did this when it tried to enter the American market.
You need to:
• look at the competition
• look at the opportunities to ally yourself with others, to share risk and to improve brand
All this may mean changing long-held assumptions. For example, higher education has a culture
of closely guarded autonomy but, when entering ODL you may have to work with partners who
you normally compete with.’
Dr Glen Farrell
33. UNIT 1 33
Market research methods use two broad categories of data: primary and secondary.
Primary data
Primary data is data that is collected to answer a specific market research question. Such data
usually belongs to the organisation that commissioned its collection, so each organisation
has to collect its own primary data. In general, this is quite costly.
Secondary data
Secondary data is data that other people have already collected, such as government
yearbooks, government statistics and reports of examining bodies. Such sources of data are
particularly useful for:
• population data
• demographic data
• data on communications uptake; for example, how many households have telephones
• education take-up; for example, proportion of each age group that has reached a given
level of education, or proportion of each age group that is currently in a given type of
Such data is often free or is available at very low cost. One problem with secondary data is
that it may be out of date.
If you find that the data you need to set up your institution is not available from secondary
sources, then you will need to consider setting up your own research. Whether you do this
yourself or hire specialists to do it for you, the main data collection methods that you are
likely to use for setting up an ODL system are as follows.
Questionnaires (also called survey research) are one of the commonest methods of
collecting data. They are popular because they are relatively cheap both to administer and to
analyse. The three main ways of administering a questionnaire are:
• self-administered – the questionnaire is sent or given to the respondent who completes
it themselves (or they can complete it online via the web)
• face-to-face – a trained interviewer asks the questions and records the answers in a face-
to-face interview
• by telephone – a trained interviewer asks the questions and records the answers during a
telephone call.
A typical questionnaire will take 10–20 minutes to administer.
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Questionnaires need very careful design and testing if they are to yield useful results. If you
do use interviewers, they must be trained.
Depth interview – one-to-one
A second method is to interview people, one at a time, in depth. The interviewer uses an
agenda rather than a fixed list of questions and can allow the conversation to ‘drift’ if they
feel that this will yield valuable information.
Depth interview – focus group
The focus group is a depth interview conducted with six to eight people. The group is
carefully selected to represent certain demographic factors, such as age, type of job or
previous education. As with the one-to-one interview, the interviewer follows an agenda.
Discussion between members is encouraged, this often being the most revealing part of the
Method Advantages Disadvantages
Questionnaires • cheap • can only ask narrowly
defined questions
• easy to administer
• cannot explore in depth
• easy to analyse
• low returns lead to doubts as
• can give statistically valid
to how representative the
view of a population
responses are
Depth interview – one-to-one • gives in-depth data • expensive to administer
• provides data on the • hard to analyse
• cannot give statistically valid
view of a population
Depth interview – focus group • gives in-depth data • expensive to administer
• provides data on the • hard to analyse
• cannot give statistically valid
• cheaper than one-to-one view of a population
35. UNIT 1 35
To obtain statistically valid results from your market research, you need to take data from a
valid sample of your population.
Constructing a sample and determining a minimum valid sample size requires the advice of
a statistician.
The mad rush for seats
‘Our Regional Study Centres (Sites) are over subscribed. When I visited one at 6.30 a.m. I was
shocked to see students rushing and scrambling for seats in the available classrooms. Some were
even literally walking and/or climbing on the backs of others to gain access to favourable
positions in advance.
Later on, I got to know that our student population at Tamale was almost 500, but the total
seating capacities of the four available classrooms were around 320. That meant, on the average,
45 students would have to make do with standing and/or peeping through the windows of each
classroom. Such a situation does not augur well for effective tutoring/tutorials/feedback sessions.
The situation has arisen out of poor planning and/or underestimating the response of people
eager to plunge into the cool stream of open and distance learning.’
Dr Theo. Ossei-Anto; Director, Institute of Educational Development & Extension, University of Education,Winneba, Ghana
ODL often seeks to widen access. This implies a more heterogeneous student body. The
wider the range of sources from which an ODL provider recruits, the more likely that some
aspects of its curriculum are inaccessible to some learners. An obvious example of this is an
ODL provider with no entrance requirements. Students who enrol on courses in sequential
subjects such as maths, languages and the sciences may well find that even the most basic
courses assume a background knowledge which they do not have.
• Will you need to provide pre-courses in certain subjects for students who do not have
the prerequisites for the courses?
• What steps will you need to take to ensure that your courses use a wide enough range of
teaching and learning methods to meet the needs of a heterogeneous student body?
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• What cultural factors might make your courses less accessible to certain student groups?
• Will language be an issue in restricting access to your courses?
• Will you need to make any special curricular provision for handicapped students?
The word ‘curriculum’ is used in two senses: (a) the content of a course and (b) the totality of
the components that make up the course, including admission arrangements, teaching
methods and assessment. When used in this latter sense, a key issue that arises is how to
make the curriculum accessible to all potential students.
The answer will always depend on circumstances, starting by considering what might be the
barrier(s) to be overcome. A given curriculum might not be accessible to all potential
students because it:
• starts at too high a level
• is delivered in a language that creates problems for some students
• uses teaching and learning methods that do not match with the preferred methods of
some students
• is delivered at times and places that are not suitable for certain students
• contains material that is alien to the culture of some students; for example, courses
imported from one country without any adaptation
• is too expensive for some students
• uses media that some students cannot access, e.g. the telephone, workbooks (not
accessible to partially sighted students).
ODL does not provide an easy, complete solution to making curricula available to all, but it
can be used to ease the access problems in certain ways. For example:
• pre-courses can be provided for those students who do not have all the prerequisite
knowledge and skill for a particular course
• a range of teaching and learning methods can be used within any one ODL course in
order to maximise the chances of each student finding learning methods that suit them.
For example, an ODL course might use print, audio, projects, workshops and online
• generally, ODL courses offer a good deal of choice of when and where students can
• in certain cases, ODL courses offer alternative media for handicapped students and web
sites can be designed to be accessible by blind students.
37. UNIT 2 37
In this unit we look at a number of decisions that will determine the nature of your ODL
system, rather than its detail. We have identified seven strategic factors for you to consider.
The first decision concerns the basic type of ODL system that you wish to create. Although
there is no one universally accepted method of classification for ODL systems, we suggest
that such systems can be basically categorised according to whether they are paced or not
and according to where they are based: on campus, at work or with the students.
A second strategic issue is to decide whether your courses are to be paced or not, i.e.
whether students will have to complete particular parts of their courses at particular times.
This might not sound like a very strategic decision but since it affects computer systems,
administrative systems, financial systems and terms of employment for tutors, it is a decision
with profound implications for constructing your ODL system.
A third issue is whether you intend to offer open access or not. If you do, then you must
consider all the issues that arise from that, such as the heterogeneity of your student
population. If you do not, you will need to decide the basis of selecting students for
This decision only applies to certain institutions. Most ODL systems are developed as an
extension of the provision of an existing college or university: these are dual-mode providers.
Sometimes, though, you need to decide whether to start up a new institution for ODL or
whether to extend the work of a current provider.
ODL can be delivered using a wide variety of media and it can be tempting to use the latest
and the best. In practice, you have to consider what will work for your situation – this section
helps in making that decision.
Most ODL systems have one or more events that students can attend, such as tutorials at
local centres. You will need to decide whether these are optional or not for students.
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The final strategic decision concerns the form of certification and accreditation you will offer.
Since the requirements of certification and accreditation will be inextricably built into any
learning materials that you develop, your choice has to be made with care – moving from
one system to another at a later date will be costly.
In this handbook we make frequent reference to ODL, i.e. to open learning and distance
learning. Here, we look at some of the meanings behind these terms and at some factors that
may influence the type of system you wish to set up.
1 What are your philosophical reasons for choosing ODL? (You must be clear about these
so that the system you choose meets your requirements.)
2 In your system, what will be the role of the items listed below and why?
Item Role Reasons
Self-study learning materials
Tuition and support at a
Tutorials, seminars and
Asynchronous communication
Counselling and advice services
Assessment and accreditation
3. Which type of system do you want?
Campus-based Organisation-based Individual-based
Self-paced ■ ■ ■
Paced ■ ■ ■
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Some definitions
Few concepts in education are less amenable to definition than ‘open learning.’ Here are
some of the many definitions that have been attempted.
‘Open learning is a term used to describe courses flexibly designed to meet individual requirements.’
(Lewis and Spencer, 1986)
‘Any form of learning in which the provider … enables individual learners to exercise choice over
any one or more of a number of aspects of learning.’ (Jeffries et al, 1990)
‘… learning opportunities that [give] … better access to knowledge and skills … give learners the
optimum degree of control over their own learning.’ (Hodgson, 1993)
‘… arrangements to enable people to learn at the time, place and pace which satisfies their
circumstances and requirements.’ (MSC, 1984)
‘… an imprecise phrase to which a range of meanings can be, and is, attached … It eludes
definition.’ (MacKenzie et al, 1975)
Open learning as a philosophy
Things become a little clearer if we look at some of the typical features of open learning
systems. These include:
• attempts to widen the range of learners
• a desire to give access to education to new groups of learners
• no entrance requirements
• attempts to remove perceived barriers to learning
• encouraging learners to take charge of their own learning
• self-paced learning.
Commonly, protagonists of open learning place special emphasis on four types of learner
• control over pace – learners can study at their own pace, including taking a break when
their work or family life needs priority
• control over place – through the use of learning materials (and, nowadays, the Internet)
learners can choose where to study – at home, at college/university, at work, in a library,
and so on
• control over time – again through the use of learning materials, learners can decide the
times at which they wish to study. The use of the asynchronous communication of email
and computer conferencing has recently made this control over time even more feasible
• control over process – learners can choose how they wish to study. Whilst this might be
an aim in many systems, in practice costs usually limit the range of materials that can be
supplied to learners. Control over process is more an aspiration than a reality.
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Since open learning is a loosely defined term, there is no precise ‘open learning method’
uniquely associated with it. Some of the methods commonly used in open learning are
shown below, although no one system would use them all.
• Self-study learning materials such as workbooks, audio cassettes, video cassettes,
computer programs, kits and websites.
• Tuition and support at a distance, usually by a part-time tutor, who may also have a
separate full-time job as a teacher.
• Tutorials, seminars and workshops – these are usually infrequent but are seen as an
important factor in maintaining motivation.
• Synchronous communication – e.g. the use of the telephone to maintain student–tutor
• Asynchronous communication between students and tutors, e.g. emails and computer
• Counselling and advice services – these may be provided by the tutor (who is then
sometimes called a tutor-counsellor) or by other people.
• Assessment and accreditation – this may take a particular form to match the
philosophy of the system or may follow the standard assessment system for on-campus
Although the exact mix of methods may be unique to each system, six common types of
system can be picked out, based on their location and whether they are paced or self-paced.
These six types are represented in Figure 1. The campus-based types are a form of open
learning for students who are already located at the providing institution’s campus. It is an
approach that is often taken in order to promote independence in learning. The two
organisation-based approaches are mostly used for work-based training. The final two
methods (individual-based) are variations of what, traditionally, have been thought of as
correspondence courses.
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Campus-based Organisation-based Individual-based
Self-paced Example Example Example
Students on a physics A company sets up a learning A correspondence college
course at a university have centre, stocked with learning provides a range of
the option of taking a packages. Some of these courses. For each course
catch-up maths course. It packages are loaded onto the there is a self-study
is self-paced. They are company’s intranet. workbook. Students are
provided with a self-study provided with a distance
Employees can sign up for
text and details of various learning tutor who marks
courses and can study in the
computer programs. They assignments during the
centre, in their offices or at
use these resources at course.
times to suit them.
If they want help, they can
visit a drop-in maths
centre on the campus.
Paced Example Example Example
Students are provided A company takes on some The British Open
with a self-study graduate trainee University’s undergraduate
workbook. There are no accountants. It runs an open programme is a good
lectures but students learning programme for example of this type of
must attend six seminars them. They study workbooks course. Although open in
during the 13-week period in their own time but must many ways, students are
over which the course is complete assignments and not self-paced.
studied. All work outside other tasks by set dates. Assignments must be
the seminars is self-study. submitted by set dates
and courses must be
Tutor support is available
completed within a set
at set times each week.
time period.
(Adapted from Freeman 1997, p. 3)
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There is more agreement on what distance learning (or distance education) is – a typical
definition is given below.
‘[an] education program whereby students may complete all or part of an educational program in
a geographical location apart from the institution hosting the program; the final award given is
equivalent in standard and content to an award program completed on campus.’
(United States Distance Learning Association, 2003)
Most distance learning schemes include:
• the physical separation of teacher and learner
• the use of learning materials
• two-way communication between student and tutor
• little or no use of learning groups.
(Keegan, 1996)
It can be seen that distance education has similarities with open learning and Rowntree
(1992, p. 30) has observed that systems that are philosophically open still tend to use
distance learning as one of their methods for delivery.
The strategic plan of Athabasca University can be seen at:
Some proponents of ODL interpret openness to include giving students the maximum
possible choice of how, when and where they study. (See Choosing the type of ODL system.)
Where this is the case, there may be a philosophical objection to take any steps to pace the
students. In the UK, the relatively new learndirect system (a web-based self-study system) is
unpaced because its founders are committed to student choice wherever possible. It remains
to be seen what effect this flexibility will have on student progress.
Other open systems (e.g. the British Open University), although philosophically committed to
openness, do not go so far as to permit full self-pacing.
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1 What will your system’s philosophical attitude to pacing be?
2 If your system will be paced, what pacing devices will you use?
The main reason that many ODL institutions reject complete self-pacing is that students do
better in paced systems. As Rowntree (1997, p. 91) comments:
‘Learners left completely free to decide when and how long to study – especially if the course is a
lengthy one – prove only too likely to drift, lose their momentum and become drop-outs. Most
learners gain heart from knowing that they are moving through a series of learning experiences
and meeting targets at roughly the same rate as their peers and are not being left way behind.’
This opinion is shared by Daniel (Daniel and Shale, 1979). Keegan (1996, p. 99), summing up
Daniel’s views, writes ‘He [Daniel] is of the opinion that distance systems can either give students
the dignity of succeeding by pacing them or the freedom to proceed towards failure without
In practice, then, most ODL systems involve some compromise between full learner
autonomy and rigid direction of students. (Rowntree, 1997, p. 91) One way in which this
compromise is managed is by including a small number of fixed-date events within each
course. For example, there might be fixed dates for:
• assignment submissions
• face-to-face sessions
• the start and end of online conferences
• telephone tutorials
• exams.
Between these events, students are free to study when, where and how they like.
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Access to ODL systems can be limited both intentionally and unintentionally.
1 What prior learning will your system require or assume?
2 What assumptions will you make about your students’ study skills?
3 Who might your system unintentionally exclude?
4 What can you do about this?
The commonest methods of intentionally limiting access are by setting prior learning
requirements for entry to courses and by limiting programmes to holders of certain types of
Evidence that such an approach might be necessary comes from studies at the British Open
University where drop-out rates on third level courses were found to be much higher for
novice students than for other students. The researchers concluded that admissions policies
should be reviewed. They suggested that the university might restrict entry to these courses,
offer diagnostic guidance and offer bridging courses. ( Tresman, 2002)
Limitation by prior learning
Limiting access by prior learning is common in face-to-face institutions, where formal course
entry requirements are often set; for example, 18+ school-leaving qualifications as a
requirement for university entrance. Such requirements are usually set because the courses
on offer are taught in a way that assumes certain prior knowledge and skills. These
assumptions are most obvious in sequential subjects such as maths, the sciences and
However, many ODL systems have no (or very loose) entry requirements. For example, some
open universities allow students to start degree programmes without holding any prior
qualifications. This open access approach is usually adopted for philosophical reasons (see
Choosing the type of ODL system) but open access brings with it a number of problems.
• Prior knowledge in sequential subjects. Entry-level courses in sequential subjects have
to be designed so that as many students as possible will succeed. So, for example, if a
course on Spanish as a second language is to be offered, the course must be accessible
to students who have never studied any Spanish. On the other hand, it would be
inconceivable to offer entry-level maths courses for students who had never studied any
maths, i.e. those who did not even know that 1 + 1 = 2 or what the signs ‘+’ and ‘=’ meant.