Concepts and Models of Open and Distance Learning

By Otto Peters

Pedagogical Models in Distance Education

by Otto Peters

Abstract: Presently many of us focuss our attention on virual learning spaces reflecting about the problem which pedagogical models would be appropriate in this new area of educational endeavour.However, this does not mean that we have to dismiss and forget all the pedagogical models developed for distance education during the last 150 years. It is by no means futile to deal with them now as all of them are still used in the present world of distance education. All of them tell us something about the methods and media used in order to make distance education possible – also under unfortunate circumstances. I shall deals with the following seven models: the "examination preparation model, the correspondence study model, the multiple (mass) media distance education, autonomous distance education, , technologically extended classroom teaching, and net-based distance education.

1. Introduction

I should like to begin by reporting about a recent teaching experience of mine. So far I have conducted two virtual seminars on theories of distance education. In these seminars I enjoyed the rare possibility of discussing ideas and problems in this field with participants from all over the world. The main problem of these two seminars – the main obstacle even – was that we were trying to interpret the same thing: distance education on a tertiary level. But most participants did so with different concepts of distance education in their minds. We discussed the subject by referring to different frames of references. What made the situation even more difficult was that some participants were not aware of this and insisted on being right when referring again to their concept, which of course, was the only one they had experienced. They criticized the ideas brought forward by other participants on the ground that they cannot be reconciled with their particular experiences, that they cannot be applied to the teaching and learning at their particular university.

Seemingly, such disparity between opinions is typical for seminars including participants from all continents. It is a new phenomenon. In the global age which we have entered by now we have to get used to it. So far it was easy to discuss problems when all participants referred to the same cultural setting and the same tradition of teaching and learning. But now the situation has changed dramatically. What can we learn from this experience?

2. The true nature of distance education

Let me invite you reflect on the difference between campus-based and distance education. Of course, you know this difference. It is obvious. And yet it is not at all trivial to deal with it. I believe that seeing and analyzing this difference is fundamental for the real understanding of this particular form of learning and teaching. There are many professors who believe and are even convinced that the only difference is just "distance" and the importance of technical media needed to bridge the gap between teacher and taught. According to them the rest of the teaching-learning process remains identical. This, however, is an inadequate attitude and a wrong approach to distance education. There is much more to it. I refer only

All this must be kept in mind when thinking about open and distance learning. Distance learning is not just campus based learning with the help of particular technical media. It is an entirely different approach, with different students, objectives, methods, media, strategies, and above all different goals in educational policy. Distance education is sui generis.

3. A break of academic tradition

I cannot explicate all the aspects mentioned. Rather, I should like to concentrate on one selected aspect only. However, this is an aspect which I consider a fundamental one. By doing this I hope to clarify a striking distinguishing criterium.

The typical and prevalent forms of academic teaching and learning is lecturing and teaching college classes. Both of them are oral – that is they use a natural form of interaction – speaking and listening in face-to-face situations. This form of interaction has been practiced since times immemorial. It is also used in other life situations. In other words the medium of educational and instructional transaction its not only well known but also highly internalized by everyone. It is a universal cultural pattern. This provides a sense of security for teachers and students. In a way they know what is expected. Their teaching and learning behavious are unconsciously governed by conventions. This makes pedagogical interaction relatively easy. The attention of teachers and students is much more directed to and concentrated on problems of contents than on problems of the necessary transactional process. It is, so to speak, self-understood, at least in the minds of most teachers and learners. This may be the reason why a special pedagogy of academic teaching and learning is lacking in most countries, and why most professors are opposed to it when they are confronted with it.

In distance education, however, things are quite different. The typical and prevalent forms of teaching and learning are not speaking and listening in face-to-face situations but presenting printed teaching material and using it in order to acquire knowledge. Speaking and listening is substituted by writing and reading, another cultural pattern which, however, is a relatively new and, to be sure, a comparatively difficult one. It is not a natural but an artificial way of interacting, which cannot take place without technical media. Hence, also the educational transaction is not a natural, but an artificial one. It cannot be performed more or less subconsciously, but must be planned, designed, constructed, tested and evaluated with full awareness of our goals and means. This is quite a different approach. It is more or less a scientific process. And it is telling that a special scientific discipline is needed to develop this kind of teaching and learning – educational technology or instructional design. A rational target-means approach is applied. This means that we have to deal with quite another form of education. The instructional situation, the learning climate, the methods of presentation and the method of the acquisition of knowledge are different for most of the time. There is not a direct interaction between professors and students as artefacts are between them. They do not have to deal with persons but with these very artefacts. Written language, which is one of the artefacts, differs from spoken langugage in its typical forms of presentation and in its conventions.

We should see and acknowledge that the shift from oral to technically mediated teaching and learning represents a severe break of academic tradition. Indeed, we have to face a revolution which is even aggraviated by the emergence of the digital information and communication media. This causes uneasiness and a degree of insecurity in teachers and learners alike. And this makes it difficult.Walter Perry, now Lord Perry of Walton, sensed this looking back at the first years of experience at the British Open University. He wrote "Ours is the most difficult way of getting a degree yet invented by the wit of man"(Perry 1976, p. 167).

4. New Learning and Teaching Behaviours

Let me give you another proof of the fundamental difference between campus-based and distance education. We have to realize that distance education requires different learning and teaching behaviours.

The students have to develop and get used to and even internalize a new approach as they have to organize their learning independently and as they have to take over many responsibilities from their teachers. They must be active not only in performing their learning tasks, but also in interpreting and critically reflecting what they are doing when they learn. Otherwise they can never improve their learning without external intervention. If they are not active themselves – nothing will happen. Adults in employment and with a family find it often very difficult to maintain the motiviation for such a learning behaviour.

The teachers have to plan everything beforehand very carefully as they have to construct the artefacts mentioned which must be able to perform the teaching functions required. Later they must keep themselves informed and become fully conscious of what is going on in the teaching learning process in which possibly thousands of students are involved. They must acquire relevant data about the progress of this process. And they should evaluate it constantly. Nowadays they are expected to present some of their teaching contents, for instance, in form of hypertexts and hypermedia. They must be motivated and even eager to help the students to become independent students – although this is, indeed, a paradox demand. Above all they must – let me repeat this for the sake of redundancy - develop a habit of reflecting on this special way of teaching they are engaged in. You will agree that this cannot be done if you are not fully aware of the decisive differences between distance education and face-to-face classroom education. The worst thing which can happen is judging distance education by applying criteria of face-to-face education. And, as you know, exactly this is done so often.

5. Concepts and Models

As already mentioned there is not one concept of distance education, but a variety of such concepts. And there is a disparity between some of them. Often concepts are so strong and convincing that they are cast into the mould of a model which can be tested and with which experiences can be made. Even more: such models can be fixed or even become "petrified" when they are institutionalized. Conscicously or sub-counsciously distance teaching institutions are shaped by certain theoretical notions and ideas about distance education. Therefore, it might be useful to present a small number of selected models of distance education to you in order to learn more about their conceptitional underpinnings. Let me present to you this list seven models of distance education first:

  1. The "eyxamination preparation" model
  2. The correspondence education model

  1. The multiple (mass) media model
  2. The group distance education model
  3. The autonomous learner model
  4. The network-based distance teaching model
  5. The technologically extended classroom model

In this way I hope to achieve several things at the same time: to inform you about some fundamental ideas behind distance and open education, to arouse your interest in some very typical – and even paradigmatic – models and to refer you to distance teaching universities in which those models have been practiced.

5.1 The "examination preparation" model

This model is not discussed in the literature. Many practioners will even deny that such a model exists. However, it is being applied and plays a certain role in distance education both in its history and its current situation. And it is worth analyzing it for pedagogical reasons. A prerequisite for this model is a university which limits itself to holding examinations and conferring degrees and which abstains from teaching. This means that the students have to teach themselves.

This model was institutionalized when the University of London was founded in the middle of the 19th century for the benefit of those persons who could not afford to be enrolled at Oxford or Cambridge University or of those persons who could not attend any university as they lived in the colonies of the British Empire. This university supported the students only by informing them about the examination regulations and sometimes by offering special reading lists. Presently, this model is being developed and practiced by the Regents of the University of New York. You can go there, take your examination and be granted "The Regents΄ External Degree".

This is certainly a tough way towards a degree. But it has worked in so many cases. For us it is interesting as it is independent - or autonomous - learning in its purest form. This model might comfort those who like to defend distance education against sceptical observers. They could argue that if such an "examiantion preparation" model can be successful without any teaching activities how much more sucessful must the more developed models of distance education be in which professors, course development teams and tutors are engaged to teach and support the students with professional skill?.

5.2 The corrrespondence education model

This is by far the oldest and most widely used model: It is, so to speak, the "examination preparation" model plus a regular teaching by presenting written or printed teaching texts and by assignments, their correction, and by a regular and ad hoc correspondence between the teaching institution and the students. This model is simple and relatively cost-effective since the teaching texts can be mass-produced by the printing press. We should see and acknowledge that over a period of 150 years this model has developed a considerable number of specific pedagogical approaches typical for distance education, approaches which are not necessary and hence unknown in other forms of academic instruction. They are relevant as they aim at the distant students and not at the campus-based students. At present, when our attention and interest is captured by the tremendous advances in electonic information and communication media, there is the danger that this particular art of teaching at a distance will be neglected, ignored and finally lost.

This model is still used extensively – inspite of the worldwide interest in the digitalization of distance education. It is also used to a great extent by distance teaching universites which take pride in announcing that they are multiple media and open universities. Quite often it still represents a substantial part also of their teaching and shapes even the pedagogical core ot these teaching-learning systems. Therefore it is useful and by no means old-fashioned to get acquainted with the methodology of correspondence education. A typical institution using this model has been the University of South Africa. At present, this university tries to catch up with the other international open universites by adding elements of more modern models. Typical institutions are also the English correspondence colleges and, for instance, the French Ecole Universelle. They have laid the foundation of distance education. Their system is outdated, old-fashioned, covered in dust. However, if you want to understand the methodology of teaching a distance fully – you will have to study this distance edcuation of the first generation.

5.3 The multiple (mass) media model

This model was developed in the seventies of our century. Its characteristic feature is the regular and more or less integrated use of radio and television together with printed matter in the form of preprepared structured course material, which may or may not be the main and dominant medium, and the more or less systematic support of the students by means of study centres. It became very important as it helped to shape the structure of many distance teaching universities all over the world. This model has been a great step forward. In fact, it designates a new era in the development of distance education, namely the second generation of this particular form of academic teaching and learning.

There is another important feature of this model. It initiated and supported the movement towards open learning and open universities. These universities are not only open because of their adoption of new methods and media. There are deeper reasons to support this new form of learning, namely motives and efforts which have a societal background. The term "open university" can be interpreted multidimensionally. Van den Boom and Schlusmans (1989, 6) showed these dimensions clearly in their study Didactics of Open Education - Background, Analysis and Approaches. According to them protagonists of open universities attach to this term the following expectations:

Another important motive is not contained in this catalogue, although it played a significant part in the founding of open universities: opening up access to university for students without formal entrance qualifications. This has been realised at the British Open University and the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands, but not in many other countries due to different academic traditions, learning cultures and societal conditions.

The British Open University has developed this particular model of multiple (mass) media distance education to perfection. More than 30 open universities all over the world have been influenced by its outstanding achievements.

5.4 The group distance education model

This model is similar to the third one as radio and television are used permanently as teaching media, especially for transporting lectures held by professors. However, these lectures are as a rule not received by indidual students but rather by groups of students attending obligatory classes where they follow the explanations of an instructor, discuss what they have heard and watched, do their assignments and take their tests. No special printed teaching material is developed and distributed with the exception of the customary "lecture notes". The Chinese "Central Radion and Television University is the most prominent example. But similar models are also used in Japan and Korea.

Analyzing this model critically one might say that this is not really a form of distance educuation although, to be sure, groups of students are taught at a distance. In fact, it is a form of technically extended campus-based education. The lectures transmitted are the same as on a real campus. And the instruction in the local classes remind us very much of classes or seminars on a campus as well. The managers of the Chinese system are even very much concerned not to depart from the formats of campus-based teaching and learning. They maintain – and are even proud of this – that the Central Radio and Television University is a university just like all other universities. In other words: they do not adapt the methods of teaching and learning to the special needs of the distant learners.

5.5 The autonomous learner model

This model provides for freedom to develop independent learning. Its goal is the education of the autonomous learner, which is, pedagogically speaking, an ambitious, demanding, but also a very promising goal. The students do not only organize their learning themselves as, e.g., in the correspondence or multiple mass media model, but they tackle also the curricular tasks, they are responsible for determining the aims and objectives, for selecting the contents, for deciding on the strategies and media they want to apply and even for the measurement of their learning success.

Here, the professors have ceased to present contents again and again, lecture after lecture or one preprepared printed course after the other. Here, the long tradition of expository teaching comes to an end. Instead, professors function as individual and personal advisors, as facilitators, who meet the students regularly once a month or so for long and thorough interviews. In these meetings the students present, discuss and negotiate their objectives and plans. The agreements they reach are fixed in form of a contract The network-based distance education model

This model is presently emerging as part of the digital transformation of our work and Lebenswelt. It provides for the possibility to work in a digitised learning environment. This is a most convenient learning situation. The students have access to even the remotest teaching programmes and databases carrying relevant information. They may work off-line or on-line. They may use CD-ROMs with distance edcuation course in hypertext-form or just with data bases to used while studying a subject (expert systems). They may take part in virtual seminars, workshops, tutorial and counselling meetings, tuition or project groups and chat with their fellow students. The greatest pedagogic advantage, however, is that the students are challenged to develop new forms of learning by searching, finding, acquiring, evaluating, judging, changing, storing, managing and retrieving information when needed. They have the chance to learn by discovery and to be introduced into learning by doing research.

This model is certainly a complex and demanding one. But it is promising as it opens up new dimension of pedagogical endeavour in distance education. For the time being I still believe that the function of computer and network-based learning and teaching will be different ones in campus-based education and in distance education.

5.7 The technologically extended classroom teaching model

This model has been developed in the USA and has become important there during the last five years. We have to deal with it as it also called "distance education". Let me describe it briefly: one teacher teaches a college class (or a studio class)– and his or her presentation or instruction is transmitted to two or more other classes by cable or satellite TV or with the help of a video conference system. In this way one teacher may teach several classes making the process more economical. The advantages: it is live and synchronous instruction. Desmond Keegan (1995, 108) put this advantage in a nutshell by referring to this form of teleconferencing as "face-to-face teaching at a distance".

How did this different, and for us strange, form of distance education come about? Eugene Rubin (1997), the head of the Institute of Distance Education at the University of Maryland gives the following reasons: this distance education model is based on the principle of the extended classroom. It is assumed that the "best" model for teaching or taking part in a university course is the model used at traditional universities. In nearly all universities in the USA this means that a lecturer stands in front of a group of students. What happens in the class varies from course to course, but it is always interactive and in real time. Distance teaching on the basis of teleconferencing attempts to imitate this model, and for this reason the criteria group, interaction and real time are decisive.

Rubin, who is also familiar with distance education systems outside the USA, admits the disadvantages of this model. It is not as efficient as is normally expected of distance teaching because the size of the classes that can be connected, and their number, is limited. Efficiency here relates merely to not having to have a lecturer in each of the connected classrooms. It is not even possible simply to speak of extended classroom teaching, because students in the connected classrooms often had the feeling that they were alienated from the main classroom. The lectures often appeared deadly boring. Lecturers require special training and experience.

What is so attractive about this situation? Basically, teachers are probably attracted by the method of presentation, because it appears not to differ from that at a traditional university. There is no need for strenuous readjustment processes and time-consuming new developments. The considerable technical effort simply serves to extend their range a little bit However, this can only be achieved by abandoning many advantages of model two and three among them the independence with regard to places and times of learning.

In spite of all the scepticism about this special form of distance teaching its world-wide diffusion cannot be ignored. There are at least 50 relevant projects that can be referred to. Of these, however, the most interesting and pedagogically useful are not those that merely imitate classroom teaching as exactly as possible but those that deliberately carry out individual and particular functions in overall system of distance teaching.

6. Conclusion

Which of these models should be given preference? This depends very much on economic and infrastructural factors – but also on the cultural background, the academic teaching and learning tradition and on the advances of technological information and communication media at the time when you establish a new system of distance and open education, not to mention the importance of educational and institutional politicies. Whatever the decision will be we must not forget that distance education is sui generis and requires different approaches. Furthermore, in our time of constant change we should have the university of the future in our minds when founding and developing a new open university. In my opinion the university of the future will have to combine distance education, learning in a digitised environment and very intensive face-to-face seminars which allow the students to take part in the scientific process of knowledge creation. The university of the future will be a mixed mode university – and distance education will be a prominent if not the fundamental element in it. This does not apply to delivery, but mainly to the methods of learning autonomously.

7. References:

Bates, A. W. 1997 The impact of technological change on open and distance education. In: Distance Education, volume 18, number 1, p. 93-109. – Boom, W. J. G. van den & Schlusmans, K H. L. A. 1989 The Didactics of Open Education. Herleen: The Open Universiteit. – Perry W. (Lord Perry of Walton) 1976 Open University. Walton Hall: The Open University Press. – Rubin, E. 1997 Intervention in the "Virtual Seminar on Distance Education" January 30, 16.04 o΄clock GMT. University of Maryland. – Keegan, D. 1995 Teaching and Learning by Satellite in a Virual European Classroom. In: F. Lockwood (ed.): Open and Distance Learning Today. London: Routledge.