As a working definition, we are going to consider Open Learning as an organised educational activity, based on the use of teaching materials, in which constraints on study are minimised in terms of access, or of time and place, pace, method of study, or any combination of these.
Across the world, the open learning system is well established, at the school and at the university levels. The mission statement of the open learning system is to take education to the doorsteps of the learner, enhance social equality and create flexibility for lifelong learning. The system, at the school level, utilises to a great extent, information and communication technology through the use of smart phones, tablets, computers and radio/television broadcasts. Along with the use of Internet and satellite-based communication technologies, it provides many structural flexibilities which seem to have an edge over the conventional formal system. The flexibility relates to the:
- Place of learning
- Time of learning
- Eligibility criteria
- Students’ choice in selecting combinations of subjects
- The scheme of examination
The Dakar Framework was a collective commitment to action. Governments have an obligation to ensure that Education For All goals and targets are reached and sustained. This is a responsibility that will be met most effectively through broad-based partnerships within countries, supported by co-operation with regional and international agencies and institutions. To recap, the Dakar Framework for Action expresses the international community’s collective commitment to pursue a broad- based strategy for ensuring that the basic learning needs of every child, youth and adult are met within a generation and sustained thereafter. It reaffirms the vision that all children, young people and adults have the human right to benefit from an education that will meet their basic learning needs in the best and fullest sense of the term, an education that includes Learning to Know, to Do, to Live Together and to Be. It is an education geared to tapping each individual’s talents and potential, and developing learners’ personalities, so that they can improve their lives and transform their societies.
Delivery Modes and Methodologies
This paper does not deal with the curriculum and pedagogical issues relating to open basic education and various comparative parameters between formal and non-formal systems of education. We shall merely reiterate that the formal school system in many countries has failed to accommodate a large number of children because they either do not join schools or drop out without completing their schooling.
Given the diverse nature of out-of-school children, including:
- Children of remote/inaccessible habitations
- Children of migrant families
- Children engaged in household chores
- Children engaged in wage labour
- Children with restrained access due to religious beliefs and practices
- Adolescent girls
a variety of innovative strategies and delivery methodologies need to be formulated to address each of their peculiar problems.
In generic terms, the delivery methodologies need to ensure that they provide for:
- Sufficient flexibility to keep specificity and context of situations of the learner in mind
- A diverse management structure
- Clarity in ground-based assessment of learner needs
- Close linkage between the community and the educational intervention
- Appropriate pedagogy based on learner-centric activities
The Learner Segments can broadly be classified as being of five types:
Type I: The teachers and facilitators who require training and skill enhancement in teaching-learning methods. This type of learner is not the subject of our discussion.
Type II: The existing school populace. This group needs a redefined education paradigm – so that they perceive their educational experience as relevant, as one that provides them with the requisite life skills so that they are motivated to continue with it.
Suggested delivery method: Computers and a Networked Learning environment making the education paradigm relevant, flexible, in keeping with the information age.
Type III: The adult population that has not been through an education programme (formal or informal).
Suggested delivery method: Broadcasting. Community centres may be equipped with computers.
Type IV: Children interested in getting educated, but who do not have access to schools (e.g., children in remote regions).
Suggested delivery method: Broadcasting for core areas may be used. These could also be conducted through online classroom sessions. But for this learner segment it will be necessary to complete certain modules through a distance-learning programme with printed material to support it. For this component of the programme, contact sessions will need to be arranged to resolve the problems and difficulties faced by the learners.
Type V: School dropouts that have been through some part of an education programme and have dropped out mid-stream. Such a group needs to pick up lost threads and is bridged either into the formal education programme or into an alternative schooling system.
Suggested delivery method: Is dependent on the stream that the dropout is being bridged into. If it is in the formal education system, the delivery methodology for Type II will apply; for the non-formal stream, the delivery methodology for Type IV will apply.
Context of Quality Issues in Delivery Modes
Irrespective of the type of educational system or the delivery mode used, the ultimate measure of quality is assessed by a single question – Is the learner learning? All other aspects form vital links in the process of accomplishing this objective. Given an intelligent and thorough (but not necessarily exhaustive) assessment of ground realities, a structure is usually planned and implemented (essentially a top-down strategizing approach), but the information flow for needs assessment of learners must always remain bottom up. This is essential for ensuring quality standards in the delivery of any programme.
It is therefore imperative to bring in the concept of structured instructional design so that the process of imparting education may be scientific, well analysed, logically sequenced and focussed on the needs of the learner. Instructional Design refers to the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes the development of instructional materials and activities; and try out and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities. It encompasses the entire process of instructional programme development from start to finish. The process can be summarised into five general phases. These phases sometimes overlap and can be inter-related; however, they provide a dynamic, flexible guideline for developing efficient and effective instruction.
Analyse: Define the problem, identify the source of the problem and determine possible solutions. The outputs include the instructional goals and a list of tasks to be instructed.
Design: Outline of how to reach the instructional goals and an expansion of the instructional foundation. The elements include writing a target population description, conducting a learning analysis, writing objectives and test items, selecting a delivery system, and sequencing the instruction.
Develop: Involves generating the lesson plans and lesson materials – the instruction, all the media that will be used in the instruction, and any supporting documentation. This may include hardware (e.g., simulation equipment) and software (e.g., computer-based instruction).
Implement: Refers to the actual delivery of instruction, whether its classroom-based, lab-based, or computer-based. The purpose of this phase is the efficient and effective delivery of instruction. This phase must promote the learners’ understanding of material, support the learners’ mastery of objectives, and ensure the learners’ transfer of knowledge from the instructional setting to the job.
Evaluate: Is an ongoing exercise. It may be formative or summative.
All phases in the chain need to be emphasised. There is often a tendency to get excessively preoccupied with only one or two of the phases, for example, the instructional media and technologies to be used in the education system. Instructional design is an invaluable strategy and development guideline to effect quality for delivery of educational programmes. The quality of the programme, of course, must be judged by the extent to which it fulfils learner needs and requirements.
The choice of instructional media and technologies also determines the quality of the programme. There is a wide range of such instructional media:
- Print: This medium has been used extensively in open and distance learning. It is effectively used to supplement classroom teaching and as information take away in case of an open learning system. It is the most cost-effective medium.
- Broadcast: Both television and radio continue to be used in schools and communities world-wide. A series of radio instruction projects, in which students are active in the classroom, responding to the radio teacher, have been running in parts of the world. The projects have been successful in increasing student learning, although interactive radio demands heavy investment in curriculum development.
- Computers: Computers have been used in the classroom for a variety of reasons – to build up a work force with skills in information technology; to educate all future citizens about technologies; to facilitate frequent curriculum change to promote change in education; to provide access to the Internet and email; it can be leveraged for cost-effectiveness and outreach.
Most systems combine and make use of the delivery mode that suits the context and serves the purpose of the programme.
Strategy for Quality
Delivery modes for open learning systems must address the requirements of scalability, modularity, reliability and flexibility in order to focus on quality. Emphasis must be given to factors as under:
The process of learning
The teaching and training processes are “interactive”. The students need to interact with the teacher/trainer as an integral part of the process. The teaching and training process involve “group-paced” teaching as well as “individual” study. The basic concept behind the delivery mode of the system must be its flexibility and competence to meet and adjust itself to the teaching and training process. Teaching is an asymmetric procedure. The Teacher/Trainer/Expert has a large quantity of information to deliver to the learner, while the learners have less information to deliver back, randomly. There is also sometimes a need to access and receive a lot of additional information at varying intervals, which can be used at an individual’s own pace.
In addition to the flow of information between the teacher/trainer to the learners, the delivery mode needs to allow the learners to interact among themselves, to be able to exchange information and experience and to work as teams. The asymmetric communication is thus inherent in the teaching and training procedures. The Centre of Knowledge needs a “wide channel” to deliver a lot of information to the learners, while in the other direction – from the learners to the Centre – a great number of “narrow channels” for interaction and individual work are needed. The system should facilitate cost-effective video and data interaction between instructors and learners in any number of locations. The systems should be simple and modular bringing economical and interactive learning within the reach of every learner segment.
In the new delivery modes available for learning, educational content will be derived from diverse sources ranging from digital libraries, web-based tools and electronic content. The content will also be in alternate forms including print, video, audio, CD-ROM and Web based packages.
The open learning “classroom” and learners will tend to be in multiple remote locations, whereas, the source remains in a centralised location. There is, thus a need for the learners to interact with the centralised location as well as to a lesser extent with each other. Incrementally the communication will occur continuously over the working week but at periodic intervals during the day.
Economy and simplicity
The delivery modes designed for open learning basically target the non- commercial segment of the society. In addition, the potential users may have limited knowledge about the operations of such a system and its potential. In such a scenario, cost effectiveness and simplicity of the network gain more significance.
Technology Based Delivery Modes
Emerging communication forces make a deep lasting transformation of basic education both feasible and necessary. Technologies, particularly, Internet, multimedia and digital networks, alter the methods and economics governing how people produce, disseminate, and use knowledge. These changes in turn affect the curriculum: what is taught, how students gain access to it, and what human achievements result. Reshaping the curriculum through digital communications has enormous potential for advancing both intellectual excellence and democratic equity – thereby ensuring quality of delivery.
Power of networks: In an ideal world, high-speed networks can deliver, to any person at any place at any time, digital curricular materials that integrate multiple forms of knowledge (i.e. audio, video, imagery, simulations and sophisticated tools of analysis and synthesis) in addition to traditional text. Networks provide not only access to curricular materials, but also the means to enable learners and teachers at the classroom level to communicate with the world at large, thereby breaking out of their traditional isolation. In short, the world of culture becomes a significant part of each class; and creative contribution to that culture by students and teachers themselves becomes a possibility in every educational encounter. High-speed networks can unite the library and the classroom, and open the tools and the data of advanced research to curious inquiry by all, creating a rich, high-quality environment of educational resources that empowers teachers and students to take on new and liberating roles. However, given the realities of low penetration of connectivity and bandwidth limitations, infrastructure limitations will affect the quality of delivery.
The Final Outcome – Quality of Delivery to Enhance Learning
The delivery methodologies must facilitate an enhancement of the learning process in several ways, including:
- Access to flexible materials: The distributed collection of materials, including texts, images, sound, video, simulations and data along with powerful tools for using them. This has the potential to reduce constraints on cultural and intellectual participation.
- Interaction with mentors and experts at a distance: One-on-one adult mentoring is tremendously effective in helping young people cope with the complications of integrating all the disparate elements of human development. Delivery networks (not necessarily always technology based) can greatly lower the cost in money and time that such mentoring entails.
- Synthesise knowledge through project-based problem solving: Advanced delivery media in education permit the integration of intellectual activity, as learners can use powerful tools and work with the contents of the local context as well as information access to pursue answers to the questions and issues that animate scholarship, science and professional practice.
- Engage in the civic concerns of public life: Through the project, learners should be able to engage with representatives of their communities to work on health, environmental, and social issues, to develop habits of service and involvement, and to form a sense, that they face significant choices and they command significant resources with which to put their choices into action. Information and effective delivery modes can engage learners in thinking and acting on real civic concerns.
- Widen the access to education: Cost effective educational applications of technology can introduce learning to remote and rural areas. Incrementally, technology can facilitate the introduction of effective cross subsidy mechanisms to provide greater equity in access.
- New ways of learning: Through instructional media, learning can emerge from its traditional boundaries of the classroom. It facilitates the transmission of knowledge in new ways such as remote teaching and open education. Learners thus have a wider menu of learning options including home-study, network learning and technology aided self-learning options.
To Conclude – A New Pedagogy with Integration
To conclude, instructional design for open learning systems is now recognised as a new pedagogy for learning communities. By integrating technology and other delivery modes into the process of education, new models of educational excellence and professional development can be created for the benefit of alternate learner segments. However, the effectiveness of instructional technology is embedded in the effectiveness of other education improvement efforts. Therefore, stakeholders must agree on the ends that are attempting to be achieved – common standards and practices must be defined to determine how the different delivery modes for open learning achieve the ends.
Linking instructional technology with core instructional objectives is what makes good, effective delivery methodologies. That’s the message we need to communicate. It’s a process-not a number. The policy goal should be first to understand the conditions of pro-social delivery methodologies and second to employ that understanding for learning improvement. Both require more penetrating analysis than has heretofore been the standard. An important part of policy reform is to give policymakers a common language and data with which to speak to their constituents so that support for effective open learning methodologies will be widespread throughout the community. Instructional technology works – but it only works for some children, in some topics and under some conditions. But that is true of all pedagogy, all systems for teaching or learning. There is nothing that works for every purpose, for every learner and all the time.
(Shashank is a Managing Partner at The Hearth Advisors)
3rd July 2014