Systems Model of Open and Distance Learning

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Tutorial.png Unit 1 

Introduction | Systems Model of Open and Distance Learning | Direct and Indirect Costs | Fixed, Variable and Semi-Variable Costs | Committed and Managed Costs | Cost Drivers

Systems Model of an ODL Institution

Rumble (1986, pages 15-17) proposes a simple model which looks at the operations in ODL institutions in terms of four inter-related sub-systems. The value of such a model is that it clearly identifies the main areas of activity in an ODL institution and defines the relationships between them. It also suggests an analogy between a factory producing items for consumption and the ‘quasi-industrial processes’ of an ODL institution. Just as in a factory, ODL involves the specialisation of tasks and the division of labour between different units.

The four sub-systems in Rumble’s model are:

Materials Sub-System
The first major sub-subsystem includes all activities involved in the design, production and distribution of self-instructional materials, whether these are primarily print-based or involve other media.
Student Sub-System
Once learning materials have been developed and distributed to learners, they are passed over to the Student Sub-system. This sub-system comprises all of the activities, staff and other resources that are involved in facilitating learning by students and managing their progress through a programme.
Logistical Sub-System
The Materials and Student Sub-systems are supported by other units which procure and manage resources for the institution. Those units which look after finances, human resources and information and communications technology (ICT) comprise the Logistical Sub-System of any open school, college or university.
Regulatory Sub-System
Finally, overall management and guidance comprise the Regulatory Sub-System, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Brains’ of the institution. All activities related to strategic planning, policy formulation and monitoring the institution’s performance in meeting its goals are part of this sub-system.

Rumble’s model is illustrated in Figure 1a:

Figure 1a - Systems Model of Open & Distance Learning

Unlike a conventional school or college, an ODL institution devotes a large part of its resources (staff time and office facilities, as well as funds) to its Materials Sub-System. Much of the expenditure on materials development is incurred in this sub-system before any students enrol for that course.

On the other hand, an open school is not the same as an educational publishing company, because ODL institutions also include a Student Sub-System to support the learning process.

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Exercise 1.1

This exercise may be done on your own, with a partner or in a small group.

  1. Looking at Figure 1a, think of some examples of costs that are incurred in carrying out the activities in each of the four sub-systems.
  2. Write these down along the left-hand margin of a blank piece of paper.
  3. Draw four vertical lines to the right of your list to form four additional (narrow) columns