Distance education and industrial production:
a comparative interpretation in outline (1967)

by Otto Peters

Peters' first theoretical analysis of distance education was published as a 45-page monograph in 1967 entitled Das Fernstudium an Universitaten und Hochschulen: didaktische Struktur und vergleichende lnterpretation: ein Beitrag zur Theorie der Fernlehre (Distance education at universities and higher education institutions: didactical structure and comparative analysis - a contribution to the theory of distance teaching). The second half of this monograph is translated here and is also to be found in D. Sewart, D. Keegan and B. Holmberg (eds) (1983) Distance Education: International Perspectives, London and New York: Croom Helm Routledge, pp. 95-113.

The more one attempts to grasp and explain the phenomenon of distance teaching, and especially the more one tries to identify the particular educational opportunities distinguishing this form of teaching from other forms of imparting academic knowledge, the clearer it becomes that the conventional range of educational terminology is not sufficiently comprehensive. Distance study represents facts new to education in several aspects. Compared with other forms of study it was novel in the form in which it made its first breakthrough over ninety years ago. With even greater justification it can be called novel in its present form in which it is currently spreading throughout the world, contributing towards the discovery of the educational opportunities provided by the modern media, such as radio and television. It is, above all, novel and pointing towards the future when it makes use of electronic data-processing equipment and wide-band cable transmission techniques. It is no coincidence that university study at a distance, in its early form of correspondence teaching, began its development only about 130 years ago, as it requires conditions that only existed from then on.

One necessity, for example, is a relatively fast and regular postal and transport service. The first railway lines and the first correspondence schools were established around the same time. When one further realizes how much technical support distance teaching establishments need nowadays in order to cater effectively for large groups of students, it becomes clear that distance study is a form of study complementary to our industrial and technological age. Lectures, seminars and practice sessions, on the other hand, have developed from forms of teaching derived from ancient rhetoric and were practised at medieval universities; the colloquium originates from the dialogic teaching methods of the humanistic era (Hausmann 1959:153). These forms of teaching have changed little in their basic structure since the beginning of the nineteenth century. They proved almost completely resistant to combination with technical support facilities. In this context they can therefore be described as preindustrial forms of study.

On account of these differences, distance study can only be described and analysed to a limited extent using traditional educational terms. They are not wholly adequate for this new form of study. This is understandable in so far as these terms developed from pre-industrial forms of teaching. If one applies them to distance study one will think in conventional concepts. To emphasize the point, one looks at a new form of study from an old perspective and has one's view of the essential structural characteristics distorted.

Industrialization is the symbol of a new epoch in the development of man fundamentally different from all previous epochs. It is without example in history, above all, on account of the basic changes in most spheres of human existence. Academic teaching alone seems to have remained largely unscathed by industrialization - with the exception of distance study, for this form of study is remarkably consistent with the principles and tendencies of industrialization. For this reason, experimentally, structural elements, concepts and principles derived from the theories of industrial production are used here to interpret the distance study phenomenon. This does not mean that the teaching and learning processes occurring in distance study are equated with processes in industrial production. The comparison is purely heuristic.

A comparison of this kind between a form of teaching and processes from another sphere of life is legitimate and not without example in the history of educational theory. Amos Comenius, the 'founder and virtuoso of the method of parallel comparison' (Hausmann 1959: 68) in his Didactica Magna, for example, compared the 'art of teaching' in unusual detail with the art of printing, also a technical process. Theodor Litt identified the nature of pedagogic thinking by comparing it with artistic creativity, technology and the processes of growth (Litt 1958: 83). In the sixties, experiments were carried out which tried to explain the teaching and learning processes using the technical model of the feedback control system, in order to find approaches to a 'cybernetic pedagogy' (Frank 1965). Most impressive, however, was the achievement of Gottfried Hausmann who, in 1959, condensed the analogy between the dramatic arts and education into a 'dramaturgy of teaching'. In it he interprets the educational structure of teaching and learning processes in detail using the terms and principles of the dramatic art in the theatre. Paul Heimann saw the merit of this comprehensive and detailed comparison in the possibility that 'it might give rise to a complete revision of our teaching and learning models' (Heimann 1962: 421).

Furthermore, it may not be without significance for this planned interpretation that for another important aspect of university or college work, namely research, comparisons with the production process already exist. In 1919, Max Weber defined structural similarities between research institutes and capitalistic organizations (Weber 1951: 566) and, in 1924, Helmut Plessner pointed out that the 'mechanization, methodization and depersonalization of the manufacturing process equally dominate the production of economic as well as cultural goods' (Plessner 1924: 407). The following comparison between distance study and the industrial production process will prove similar consistencies.

From the start, distance study has a special relationship with the industrial production process in so far as the production of study materials in itself is an industrial process built into the whole teaching process as a constituent part, quite unlike the production of textbooks, for example. In the case of commercial distance teaching establishments the further question of selling the printed or otherwise duplicated study units adds calculations of applied economics to the teaching process. Even the distance teaching departments of government-financed universities are not entirely free from these considerations. It would be interesting to examine how far these facts have already influenced the structure of distance teaching.

In order to facilitate the discovery of further relationships between distance teaching and the production process, the following structural changes - essentially brought about by industrialization in the development of the production of goods should be noted:

  1. According to the principle of rationalization, individual work as was traditional in the craftsmen's trades changes at an early stage to a production based on the division of labour (e.g., in factories), and this later leads to the development of assembly lines and mass production.
  2. Work processes initially characterized by the use of tools are increasingly restructured by mechanization and, later, automation.
  3. In detail, these changes lead to the following results:

The terms used in business studies to describe these facts will be outlined briefly and - where possible - applied to distance teaching.


By rationalization we mean all 'methodical' (that is, rationally guided) 'measures' with the purpose of achieving 'output with a comparatively (compared to earlier situations) lower input of power, time and money'. Scientific discoveries should 'be evaluated for practical use in such a way as to achieve the best possible results in view of the continually necessary development and redevelopment of economic and technical processes' (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 4530).

Applied to the practical example of the production process this means that 'the entire production line, from raw material to end product, is carefully analysed to allow each single work process to be planned so as to make the most effective contribution possible towards achieving clearly formulated business tasks (Buckingham 1963: 24).

Georges Friedmann emphasizes that this is a dynamic process aiming at continuous improvement in quality through 'continuous progress in the study of materials, accuracy and precision' (Friedmann 1952: 203). Rationalization of this type has only started to develop with increasing industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 4531).

Management science holds that the reason for the considerable obstacles to rationalization lies in human nature itself, because 'human inadequacy inhibits the motivation to gain unprejudiced views and the willingness to act according to rational convictions' (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 4530). Further obstacles are considered to be tradition, convention, habits and fashion.

In education, a rationalizing way of thinking is nothing new. In a general form, it influences the reasoning for numerous educational decisions. For example, the introduction of lectures to larger groups of students, the use of printed books and the specialization of university lecturers were considerable steps towards the rationalization of the academic teaching process. Every university teacher will, when planning a lecture, choose those subjects that will best help him or her to fulfil the purpose of that particular lecture. In distance teaching, however, ways of thinking, attitudes and procedures can be found which only established themselves in the wake of an increased rationalization in the industrialization of production processes. The characteristic details are, among others, as follows:

  1. In distance study the teaching process is based on the division of labour and detached from the person of the university lecturer. It is therefore independent from a subjectively determined teaching situation, thus eliminating part of the earlier mentioned obstacles to rationalization. The division of labour and the objectification of the teaching process allow each work process to be planned in such a way that clearly formulated teaching objectives are achieved in the most effective manner. Specialists may be responsible for a limited area in each phase.
  2. The use of technical equipment (duplicating machines, organization systems, transporting devices) makes it possible to convey the knowledge, ability and teaching skills of a university lecturer, by means of the detached objectivity of a distance study course of constant quality, to a theoretically unlimited number of students. The rationalization effect of mass production becomes apparent here.
  3. The rigorous application of organizational principles and means saves teachers as well as students unnecessary effort.
  4. At some of the newer distance teaching establishments, modern means of technical support, such as film, television and electronic data-processing installations, have replaced teaching staff in certain areas of their work, in particular, in the fields of giving information and assessing performance.
  5. Students work through a course which has been tested prior to going to print. This prevents misunderstandings and stops students from going in the wrong direction.
  6. The quality of a distance study course can be improved, because its effectiveness can be monitored at any time by scientific methods.

If the number of students required in a society outgrows the number of university teachers available, rational thinking should be able to find ways and means of changing teaching methods in such a way that the teaching resources of the university teachers available are used to the best effect, quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Distance study can be regarded as a result of such endeavours.


The division of labour has played an important role in the sociological theories of the last 100 years (Durkheim: 1986; Schmoller: 1985). Applied to the production process it means that the work is split in the sense of 'dividing one complete work process into a number of elementary procedures' (Konig 1958: 27), as described by Adam Smith at an early stage (Smith 1776). With an extensive division of labour 'training periods become shorter, more people are able to carry out the work and wages can be lowered (Konig 1958: 27).

A result of the advanced division of labour is increased specialization. The following statement, by Adam Smith in 1776, applies to everyone involved in a production process where a division of labour exists:

"Men are much more likely to discover easier and readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of their minds is directed towards that single object than when it is dissipated among a great variety of things. It is naturally to be expected therefore that some one or other of those who are employed in each particular branch of labour should soon find out easier and readier methods of performing their own particular work, whenever the nature of it admits of such improvement (Smith 1963: 110)."

Just as the division of labour is a precondition for the mechanization of work processes and for industrialization as a whole, it has made university study at a distance possible. The division of labour is the main prerequisite for the advantages of this new form of teaching to become effective. The principle of the division of labour is thus a constituent element of distance teaching.

The 'complete work process', which is split in distance teaching consists of the teaching activity of the university lecturer: namely the entirety of the measures he takes in order to initiate and guide learning processes in students. Initially, the two basic functions of the university teacher, that of conveying information and that of counselling, were allocated as separate responsibilities in distance teaching departments of universities or colleges Both functions above all however that of transmitting information, are now even further divided. If, for example, the number of students enrolled on a distance study course is high, regular assessment of performance is not carried out by those academics who developed the course. The recording of results is the responsibility of yet another unit; and the development of the course itself is divided into numerous phases, in each of which experts in particular fields are active.

This specialization may bring the following advantages:


Mechanization means the use of machines in a work process (Buckingham 1963: 17). These machines replace the work done by the muscles of men or animals. In part they even take over elements of brain work. There are varying degrees of mechanization. The pre-industrial stage is characterized mainly by craftwork making use of tools. The first level of industrialization was reached with the use of 'dependent machines'. The second level of industrialization led to mass production as a result of the use of 'semi-independent machines' and assembly lines. Finally, the third level of industrialization is characterized by the spread of automation (with automatic control or feedback). The changes occurring at each level are so great that, in this context, one author has spoken about a first, second and third technical or industrial revolution (Buckingham 1963: 17).

In order to stay with this analogy, distance study could be ascribed to the industrial levels, as it cannot take place without the use of machines. Duplicating machines and transport systems are prerequisites and later forms of distance teaching have the additional facilities of modern means of communication and electronic data-processing installations

In contrast, when considering the framework of conventional study, one cannot help thinking that its forms of teaching belong to the pre-industrial level. There the university teacher is comparable to a craftsman as he uses 'tools' (pictures, objects books), without these changing the structure of the teaching process to any considerable degree.


Buckingham referred to the importance of the assembly-line principle in connection with the use of machines. Both these factors, among others, had made mass production possible (Buckingham 1963: 20). Assembly-line work is characterized by the fact that the worker remains at his place of work whilst the workpieces travel past him.

The formal similarity between distance teaching and the production process becomes particularly noticeable here. In the development of the distance study course the manuscript is passed from one area of responsibility to another and specific changes are made at each stage. The study units are printed on a large scale, stored, sent to the distance learner, who completes them, sent to the script marker who checks the work, and finally submitted to the administration, where the performance of the distance learner and the effort of the script marker (to calculate fees) are recorded. The rationalization effect achieved by the fact that many university teachers and thousands of students do not have to meet in one place in order to participate in teaching events is at least the same as that which a car manufacturer tries to achieve when, instead of sending the worker to the vehicle to be built, he transports the necessary parts to the worker. In both cases - the production process as well as distance teaching - time, energy and money are saved.


In modern sociology the term 'mass trend' has rid itself of its negative cultural connotation, making it a largely neutral expression (Konig 1958:171). Mass trend nowadays merely denotes a structural characteristic of an advanced industrial society and indicates 'that in a pure consumer society such as ours the rise in the standard of living is due purely to the fact that industry produces certain consumer goods and commodities in large quantities, thus making them generally accessible' (Konig 1958:171).

Mass production is by its nature only possible where there is a sufficiently large 'mass of consumers'. This, in turn, requires an efficient transport system providing a connection between producer and consumer who, as is typical in today's system, are geographically distant. In order to work profitably, producers need to research consumer requirements and find standards acceptable to all consumers for their products They must continually improve their goods (aim at perfection), as each shortcoming is multiplied by the number of items produced.

If one equally rids the term 'consumer' of its negative cultural connotation, one can speak of the student as a 'consumer of academic education'. Quite obviously, 'demand' outstrips 'supply' at universities and colleges, and this had led to the large-scale operation at our universities and colleges As traditional forms of academic teaching originally envisaged small groups of students and today's practice of applying methods designed for small groups to large groups must be seen as a perversion of an educational concept (for example, lecture rooms with loudspeaker connection), one can understand it if various governments see distance teaching, on account of its similarity with the mass-production process as a means of providing very large groups of students more adequately with academic teaching than conventional methods would allow.

Indeed, the multiplication effect achieved by technology and the postal delivery system means that the university teacher and the distance learner - like producer and consumer - no longer need to live in the same geographical location.

From an economic point of view, the production of distance study courses represents mass production. Apart from reasons of profitability, the large number of courses produced forces distance teaching organizations to analyse the requirements of potential distance learners far more carefully than in conventional teaching and to improve the quality of the courses. For example, in the USSR the Public Accounts Authority complained at one time that too many students dropped out of distance study, and it is suspected that this might have been the reason that led to an examination of the study materials. Most American distance study courses are revised and re-issued at regular intervals (every one to four years). As American universities charge fees to cover the greatest part of the budget allocated to distance teaching departments the quality of distance study courses must not be allowed to deteriorate. When, on account of mass production, the University of California has more distance study courses to offer than there is demand for them, it occasionally places advertisements for students in newspapers

Statistics prove that the number of graduates in areas without a university is lower than in areas near universities. It is possible that, according to the principle of mass production, distance teaching will one day equalize the opportunities to study, just as industrial mass production has assirnilated consumer patterns in town and country. Analogous to the increase in the standard of living, this would make a general increase in the level of education possible, which might not otherwise have been achieved.


In a production situation where a division of labour prevails, economy, quality and speed of the work processes depend on the right type of preparation. This is necessary in industries producing a variety of articles and needs to be carried out by senior specialist staff in special departments (thinking departments), as workers, foremen and masters involved in the production process lack the necessary knowledge and experience. During the preparatory stages one determines how workers, machines and materials can usefully relate to one another during each phase of the production process. In addition, there are developmental and constructional tasks The more thorough the preparation, the less is a successful production process dependent on the particular abilities of the workers involved. Consequently, workers can easily be exchanged. Normally considerably larger sums of investment are required for preparatory work than was the case previously in the manufacture of goods.

As distance teaching institutions have to develop a great variety of distance teaching courses the comparison with a firm producing a variety of goods comes to mind. In distance teaching too success depends decisively on a 'preparatory phase'. It concerns the development of the distance study course involving experts in the various specialist fields with qualifications also often higher than those of other teachers involved in distance study. Here, too, each section of the course can be carefully planned. The use of technical support and a suitable combination of this with individual contributions from distance tutors and advisers play an important role here. Compared to university teachers in conventional study, who are responsible for the entire teaching process, distance tutors and advisers are more easily exchangeable on account of the thorough preparatory work. Finally, the development of distance study courses also requires investment to an extent that has never before been considered at establishments of higher education.

The separation of preparatory work and individual instruction and the distribution of these functions among several persons is a particularly clear example of analogy with the production process.


An essential element of preparation is planning, which needs to be far more comprehensive and detailed in the industrial manufacturing process than in manual production, as it requires the coordination of many interacting factors. By planning we mean that 'system of decisions which determines an operation prior to it being carried out' (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 4341). In more detail this means that 'all measures necessary for the economical execution of an order - from placement to delivery - must be introduced according to plan' (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 1742).

Management science distinguishes two methods of planning. Effective planning consists of choosing the most advantageous of several alternatives and forecasting the future development of data. Contingency planning is applied where market situations suddenly change (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 4348).

In the developmental phase of a distance study course planning plays an important role, as the contents of correspondence units, from the first to the last, must be determined in detail, adjusted in relation to each other and represented in a predetermined number of correspondence units. Where distance study is supplemented by residential weeks on campus or weekend seminars planning becomes even more important; these supplementary teaching events are not intended to repeat academic contents already offered, nor have an 'enrichment' function, but should be structurally integrated in the distance study course. When combining distance teaching with other media, one has to consider carefully which type of contents suits what medium. Finally, where computers are used in distance study, preparatory planning is most advanced and demands by far the greatest expenditure, as the teaching activity of the computers needs to be programmed.

In all these efforts to predetermine and arrange the course of teaching processes as far as possible, we are dealing with effective planning. Intervention by advisers and tutors during the course of distance study, however, is regarded as contingency planning, which supplements effective planning.


Planning largely concerns itself with the organization of the production cycle. In organizational management terms, organization means 'creating general or permanent arrangements for purpose-orientated activity' (Mayntz 1963: 86). As a consequence of the division of labour, the production process has to be rationally ordered according to organizational principles and with specially developed organizational means, since 'the continuous interacting of numerous people towards a specific purpose requires organization' (Mayntz 1963: 7). Furthermore, productivity depends on the type and degree of organization. Distinguished from organization are improvisation (preliminary and provisional regulations) and disposition (special regulations) (Kosiol 1959: 18).

In distance study, likewise, there is an immediate connection between the effectiveness of the teaching method and rational organization. Organization, for example, makes it possible for students to receive exactly predetermined documents at appointed times for an appropriate university teacher to be immediately available for each assignment sent in, for consultations to take place at fixed locations at fixed times, or for examinations to be held, or for counsellors to inform themselves at any time of the progress of a student or a group of students. Organization becomes easier in large distance teaching establishments, as trained personnel and modern means of organization are available. These enable them to supplement the organization of distance teaching with improvisation and disposition.

The importance of organization in distance teaching can be assessed by the fact that it is often difficult to distinguish between the operational (technical) organization of distance study and the methodical organization of the actual academic contents.


In recent decades the principles of scientific management have made a gradual breakthrough. According to them work processes are analysed systematically, particularly by time studies, and in accordance with the results obtained from measurements and empirical data the work processes are tested and controlled in their elementary details in a planned way, in order to increase productivity, all the time making the best possible use of working time and the staff available (Seischab and Schwantag 1960: col. 1055). Frederick Winslow Taylor describes this process as the application of scientific engineering techniques to management (McConnel 1966: 268). In distance teaching, similar tendencies can be shown. For example some distance teaching institutions commission experts to analyse scientifically the success of their courses. Michael Young (1965: 37) outlines the educational function of the research techniques applied by remarking that they replace the eyes and ears of academics in face-to-face teaching: they register students' reaction to the distance study course and aim at improving its effectiveness accordingly. These research techniques are not only used to determine the effectiveness of the course for individual students, but - and this is even more important - its effectiveness for the whole group of students involved. With its efforts to measure the success of a teaching method, distance teaching has doubtless introduced a hitherto neglected aspect into university teaching.


On account of the division of labour and mechanization in the manufacturing process there is a much greater need to predetermine the various phases formally than in manual production. It is only the emphasis on formality which makes the cooperation of all those involved in the production process possible, as each of them has to rely on previous work having been carried out according to plan. Most activities and interactions in an industrial set-up must therefore be determined according to agreed rules (Mayntz 1963: 86). In distance study, likewise, all the points in the cycle, from student to distance teaching establishment to the academics allocated, must be determined exactly. Communication is standardized by the use of forms. Authors of correspondence units are recommended to consider the incorporation of standard formalized aspects that have proved to be of advantage. Lecturers marking assignments also work to standard guidelines. Assessment is in parts, largely formalized through the frequent use of multiple choice questions, where the student only has to place a cross against the right answer. In the most modern forms of distance teaching, formalization goes as far as students marking the results of their learning on a punchcard in coded form, and this is then input to a computer.


It is characteristic of a production situation involving the division of labour and high technology that manufacture is limited to a number of types of one product, in order to make these more suitable for their purpose, cheaper to produce and easier to replace. Georges Friedmann (1952: 394) pointed out that this does not at all represent a threat of dullness and uniformity. On the contrary, the elementary parts produced could be combined in extremely diverse ways.

The application of the principle of the division of labour and the use of machines as well as the duplication of correspondence units in often large numbers, force distance teaching institutions likewise to adopt a greater degree of standardization than is required in conventional teaching. Not only is the format of the correspondence units standardized, so also is the stationery for written communication between student and lecturer, and the organizational support, as well as each single phase of the teaching process, and even the academic contents.

Whereas the academic giving a conventional lecture may indulge in an interesting deviation, because he sees educational advantages in this at a particular time with a certain group of students, the distance study lecturer has to be aware that he is, when writing a correspondence unit, addressing such a large group of students that situation-dependent improvisation becomes impossible. Instead he has to find a standard adequate, as far as possible, for every student admitted to the distance study course in question. This is achieved by developing a model for the course, perfecting it through the involvement of several experts and then approximating it to the required standard by testing it on a representative group of students before printing large numbers of copies. Just as the production of a branded article can only remain economical if its quality is continuously adapted to the constant needs of a large group of consumers a distance teaching institution has to standardize the academic contents of its courses in such a way that it can be sure they appeal to all distance learners as equally as possible. The adaptation to any number of students, however large, forces the lecturer more strongly than in conventional study to consider the necessary standard that is, at the same time, realistic for as many students as possible.

Consequently, the choice of contents of a distance study course is less likely to be a reflection of the particular interests of an academic giving conventional lectures than of the objective requirements of the total course profile.


On account of the division of labour and the use of various types of machines the function of the worker in the production process has changed considerably. Whereas it was typical for the craftsman to plan the production of a piece of work as well as acquire the necessary materials, carry out the work and finally sell the finished piece of work himself, industrialization led to a more marked functional differentiation. When preparatory work and selling became separate from production and, within these three phases, many individual functions were allocated to different individuals, a loss of function naturally occurred for each single worker. On the other hand, new roles were created and new achievements became possible. For example, 'in jobs where, due to mechanization, the processing of the material has been taken out of the worker's hand, speed and energy of execution are no longer required; they have been replaced by accuracy and diligence; the work no longer shows quantitative but qualitative criteria' (Friedmann 1952: 389).

As a result of the division of labour, the function of the lecturer teaching at a distance also changes. The original role of provider of knowledge in the form of the lecturer is split into that of study unit author and that of marker; the role of counsellor is allocated to a particular person or position. Frequently, the original role of lecturer is reduced to that of a consultant whose involvement in distance teaching manifests itself in periodically recurrent contributions In order to ensure the effectiveness of the four functions mentioned, numerous support functions of an operational-technical type are particularly important, as, without them, distance study could not take place.

As tutors and consultants have largely been relieved of the task of conveying course matter, they are able to devote themselves to a considerable degree to more demanding tasks, such as aiding motivation, providing individual support, structuring course contents for students, identifying problems, establishing connections and so on. Here, too, a loss of function is compensated for by a gain in function whereby, at the same time, an otherwise almost unattainable level of quality can be achieved.


The more the production process is determined by machines and organizational principles, the more it loses its subjective element which used to determine craftsmen's work to a considerable degree. Hermann Schmidt (1966: 133) pointed out that this process already started when man began to substitute tools provided by nature, such as hands, fists and teeth, with tools taken from his surroundings. Objectification was not possible until the item to be objectified had become the subject of reflection.

Considering that, since Frederick Winslow Taylor, there has been a changeover to analysing each single phase of the industrial production process with scientific means and to organizing purposefully the contribution of workers and machines accordingly, it becomes clear what a high degree of objectification has been achieved. This development has found a climax in automated production where man's involvement in the course of the production process has largely been eliminated.

In this respect too, the relationship between distance study and conventional study is the same as between industrial production and mechanical fabrication. The university lecturer who lectures from his chair or leads a seminar discussion has the freedom and the opportunity to allow his subjectivity to influence his way of teaching: he is free to decide how and how much to prepare, he determines his own academic aims and methods and is able to change them spontaneously during a lecture, whereby not all the changes in his teaching method need to be reflected. In distance teaching, however, most teaching functions are objectified as they are determined by the distance study courses as well as technical means. Only in written communications with the distance learner or possibly in a consultation or the brief additional face-to-face events on campus has the teacher some individual scope left for subjectively determined variants in his teaching method. In cases where a computer is used in distance study, even this opportunity is limited further.

The advantages of objectifying the teaching process in the form of a distance study course lie in the fact that the teaching process can then be reproduced, thus making it available at any time and above all, that it can be manipulated. Without objectification distance study courses could not take place anywhere and at any time and be continuously improved.

The objectification of teaching practice in distance study is of particular importance in societies where, on account of an hierarchic structure of universities and colleges, the function of the provider of knowledge is combined in many academics with that of a holder of very great authority. As a result of this the relationship between student and lecturer is similar to that of subordinate and superior. As distance study has largely been freed from subjectivity, the process of providing knowledge is hardly affected by situations of this kind. In this context, distance study is particularly suitable for the further education of adults.


The investment required for mechanized mass production involving the division of labour has led to large industrial concerns with a concentration of capital, a frequently centralized administration, and a market that is not seldom monopolized.

In this context it is significant that some distance teaching establishments cater for very large groups of students The largest universities teaching at a distance in the USSR and in South Africa have over 40,000 students, and the Open University in England has more than 70,000. Each of these three establishments - as well as their Spanish equivalent - caters for the national demand. Obviously, a minimum number of students is necessary to make the technical installations and the establishment of an efficient organization feasible. Economically, it is therefore more worthwhile to create a large central distance study establishment rather than ten or twenty small regional institutions. Just as the industrial markets for certain products have long expanded beyond narrow regional frontiers, such centralized distance teaching establishments must cross the traditional areas of the responsibility of universities and the educational administration.

If all the said principles of distance teaching are rigorously applied, monopoly-like prestige positions in teaching activity are created for leading experts in various disciplines. Just as no record producer would use a mediocre singer when he can engage a Fischer- Dieskau, a distance teaching institution has to try and gain the best lecturers in their field for the development of its distance study courses. Just as in industry, however, one must ensure that such monopoly-like positions do not hinder free competition.

The possible consequences of a rigorous concentration and centralization of distance teaching were hinted at, for the first time in 1966, in a memorandum from the British government concerning the then proposed University of the Air (British Government 1966). In future, universities would no longer pursue the same objectives in all subjects but specialize in some disciplines and cater for the national requirements for distance study in these.


From the above comparisons the following conclusions in relation to distance teaching may be drawn:
  1. The structure of distance teaching is determined to a considerable degree by the principles of industrialization, in particular by those of rationalization, division of labour and mass production.
  2. The teaching process is gradually restructured through increasing mechanization and automation.
  3. These changes are the reason for the following structural characteristics to have emerged:

    The result of this comparative interpretation permits the addition to recent explanations of distance study based on traditional educational concepts of a definition which is apt to point to the specific characteristics of the new forms of teaching and learning, thus structurally separating them from conventional forms of teaching and learning. This definition is as follows:

    Distance study is a rationalized method - involving the division of labour - of providing knowledge which, as a result of applying the principles of industrial organization as well as the extensive use of technology, thus facilitating the reproduction of objective teaching activity in any numbers, allows a large number of students to participate in university study simultaneously, regardless of their place of residence and occupation.

    This definition shows that, within the complex overall distance teaching activity, one area has been exposed to investigation which had regularly been omitted from traditional didactic analyses. Contrary to other attempts at definitions, new concepts are used here to describe new facts.

    It was not a purpose of this comparative interpretation to pass judgements on the industrial structures which have been shown to apply to distance teaching. Presumably, the striking advantages of these structures, from a point of view of educational policy and organization, are also connected with important educational disadvantages. This question has yet to be discussed. In this context it will merely be hinted that it must be disadvantageous to a society if the developments outlined here have not been, or have not been fully, recognized, or are even denied. Such deep structural changes in academic teaching merit everyone's attention, no matter what hopes or fears are connected with them. If society's awareness lags behind the speedily developing technological and industrial opportunities, this is bound to lead to painful malfunctions, even in the area of academic teaching. They can be detected and remedied more easily, when the industrial structures characteristic of distance teaching are recognized and taken account of when the appropriate educational decisions are taken.


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