An Insight Into Open and Distance Education

I took part in a seminar on open and distance learning organized by my school’s open university. Somehow, I felt that this was better suited for its faculty and tutors, but since the invitation was extended also to students, I opted to join in.

Open and Distance Education: Relevance and Trends
Assistant Professor and Program Chair, Diploma in Science and Mathematics Teaching
University of the Philippines — Open University

Open and distance education obviously deviates from residential (“in a classroom”) education which most are accustomed to. The student enrolled in such a program studies by himself, although it is more accurate to state that he is under a “guided” self-study program.

Professors in an open university are usually selected because of their technical experience in fields respective to the disciplines offered for study. This contrasts with residential professors who are usually selected because of their academic achievements.

Communication between students and their professors are interceded by available technology. In the early days of open education (circa 1990), available technology included correspondence and postal mail, telegrams, landline phones, and radio and television broadcasts. Presently, available technology now includes email, web-streamed videos, podcasts, and new media such as blogs, vlogs, and social networking services.

A highlight on the difficulties of open learning is the psychological distance of the professor and the student. There are differences in time and space for both ends. For example, a professor who is available for consultation cannot be contacted by a student because the said student has to attend to other obligations like work or household chores. When the student is free to focus on his studies, the professor suddenly becomes unavailable because he has to tend to other students, perhaps because he is also a residential instructor. Whatever the case, these differences have to be bridged in order for distance learning to be effective.

Enumerated below are some other points that I learned from the seminar:

Elements of Open and Distance Education

  1. Physical separation of professors and their students.
  2. Use of technical media in teaching and learning.
  3. Importance of maintaining a two-way communication process.
  4. Accreditation of an open university by an educational institution.

Models in Open and Distance Education

Correspondence Model

As stated, this model involves the use of old-fashioned correspondence (written communication or messages). Basically, professors write the material to be learned as well as instructions for assignments and tests and mail them to their students. Once accomplished, the students mail back their professors all the assignments and other requirements due to them.

Multimedia Model

In this model, modules are created utilizing new media. The modules are then sent to students for guided self-study, along with instructions for assignments and self-tests. The students and professor then meet for face-to-face discussions (study sessions), usually just once a month to summarize and synthesize what was learned from the modules.

Telelearning Model

For this model, learning modules are created into radio broadcasts or television broadcast material. This would entail a partnership between an open university and a broadcast media partner, depending on the form of learning modules created. Students have the convenience of learning from radio or television shows. Assignments given at the end of the broadcast modules would be turned in through available technologies (Email or postal mail).

Network-Based Model

This model involves the use of a networking software, much like social networking services, that is catered for education. Such networks can be accessed through the World Wide Web through exclusive portal entry-points with a password or assigned identification code. An open university can opt to custom-make a networking software program or use existing online networking tools and restrict access only to concerned individuals/students.

A Personal Perspective

Being enrolled in an open learning program is truly different and certainly as difficult, or even more, as being in a residential learning program. I say it is more difficult because learning takes place in one’s own comfortable environment, in most cases, a home. A student’s home possesses various distractions, making learning slow-paced that creating and submitting module requirements can be delayed. Also, an “academic way of thinking” established in residential learning is nonexistent in open learning programs.

There is also the issue of an open university student’s credibility in his respective field upon graduation. Honestly, I was adamant in enrolling in an open university because somehow, a graduate from such academic structure may not be on par with residential learning graduates. I thought that residential learners had more developed concepts and are generally just “well-taught” as compared to distance learners.

But then, after experiencing a module-guided self-study program for some weeks, I reflected that open university students create their own interpretation of the concepts and lessons they study within a realistic or acceptable frame. This is in contrast to residential students where the concepts taught to them are interpretations of their professors. Personally, it is important for me that a student has his own interpretation of a concept. He should use his own imagination to understand a certain lesson. In this way, the concept is embedded in his thoughts, which would then be reflected in his words and subsequently, his thinking and his life.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.
—Margaret Thatcher in the movie, The Iron Lady (2011)


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