Training Educators to Design and Develop ODL Materials/Methods of Delivery

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Tutorial.png Workshop Modules Home.png Principles of ODL | ID Models | Needs Analysis | Developing Learners’ Profile | Methods of Delivery | Content Development Methodology for ODL | Types of Assessment in ODL | Developing a Student Guide | Relevant Technologies | Course Evaluation | Other Key Issues

Module 5 : Methods of Delivery

This module introduces you to the varied approaches/methods used in the delivery of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programmes. It is designed to provide you with 'hands on' experiences in using tools to deliver ODL programmmes. We will examine synchronous and asynchronous approaches to allow flexibility in the choice of delivery methods to suit varying contexts and learning environments. The module also introduces you to some learner support strategies inherent in ODL methods of delivery.


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Module Objectives

At the end of this module you will be able to:
  • identify different methods used in the delivery of ODL programmes
  • distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous approaches to delivery
  • identify synchronous and asynchronous tools
  • identify types of learner support strategies in the delivery of ODL programmes
  • apply ODL delivery methods in the delivery of content.


  1. Definitions and Concepts
  2. Methods of Delivery
    1. What are the delivery methods
    2. Types of delivery methods
    3. Advantages and disadvantages
    4. Evaluation
  3. Learner Support
    1. Discussion forums
    2. Feedback mechanisms
    3. Academic counseling
    4. Peer review/ evaluation
    5. Personal interaction/ availabilty
  4. Summary

1. Definitions and Concepts

Distance learning 1.jpg

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'Open Learners', 'Distance Learners', or 'Open and Distance Learners'?

  • Who is an open learner?
  • Who is a distance learner?
  • Based on ideas generated from above, identify some characteristics of Open and Distance learners.

Open learners study in their own time and at their own pace (within reason). Distance learners are physically and/or temporally remote from each other and their 'tutors'. So each type of learner has their own needs. The activity which follows will help you to better understand those two concepts.

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What are the different ways of connecting distance learners to their 'learning community'? Make a list.

From your list, identify those that could not be used for open learners without compromising their 'open-ness' and specify why?

So, you see, open learners need not be distant and distance learning need not be open.

Open and distance learning (ODL) is the term coined to cover the common ground between both types of learner. You need to decide where on each of the scales of open-ness and distance you want or expect your learners to be.

2. Delivery Methods

"The delivery method is the medium through which course content is transmitted and human interaction occurs". The choice of delivery method is influenced by a number of factors that include the nature of the content, the characteristics of the learner, the specific environments for learning and the available technologies.

Delivery methods fall under two broad areas: Synchronous and Asynchronous

  • Synchronous learning: A real-time, instructor-led online learning event in which all participants are available at the same time and can communicate directly with each other.

Synchronous methods provide immediate availability of the instructor for questions and feedback. It provides many different types of tools, is similiar to the classroom, and allows for real-time collaboration among participants.

  • Asynchronous learning: Learning in which interaction between instructors and students occurs intermittently with a time delay. Asynchronous methods allow time for reflection, allow participants to work at their own pace and can be highly structured.

The following table lists some of the examples of the above:

Synchronous Asynchronous
Teleconferences ( SKYPE) ,Video conferences, Audio Conferencing, Web Conferencing
  • Discussion Boards, Calendar-dates for assignments, examinations, events etc.
Chat/ Chat Rooms
  • Website Links- listservs
Instant Messaging : MSN, IRC- Internet Relay Chat, ICQ
  • Group Announcements Messaging / E-mail
White Boarding
  • Surveys & Polls
Virtual Classroom
  • Threaded Discussion

Advantages and Disadvantages

Synchronous Methods of Delivery

There are four equally compelling advantages to synchronous systems, although I am less confident of general agreement about the order:

  • motivation - synchronous systems focus the energy of the group, providing motivation to distance learners to keep up with their peers and continue with their studies .
  • telepresence - real time interaction with its opportunity to convey tone and nuance helps to develop group cohesion and the sense of being part of a learning community.
  • good feedback - synchronous systems provide quick feedback on ideas and support consensus and decision making in group activities, both of which enliven distance education.
  • pacing - synchronous events encourage students to keep up-to-date with the course and provide a discipline to learning which helps people to prioritize their studies. (Distance Education Solutions:North American Web Developers Conference, October 1997)

Features of synchronous systems include:

  • live interaction in real-time
  • allowing individual and group work
  • presentation formats incorporating both discussion or lectures
  • learning both from the instructor and other students input
  • resource tools and materials that can be introduced, presented, shared and removed
  • student activity that can be monitored and facilitated by the instructor.

In addition

  • Content can be produced in less time and expense;
  • can be used for any content type having a long or short lifespan and for large or small audiences;
  • can be created quickly, therefore it is especially useful where there is an immediate need.

Disadvantages of synchronous delivery methods

  • Difficulty and /or expensive getting to the venue
  • Inability to repeat the work or a lecture towards mastery.
  • Limited opportunity to allow remedial or extension exercises.
  • The learner is dependent on the ability of the teacher.

Asynchronous Methods of Delivery

There are four crucial advantages to the asynchronous media and I have arranged them in descending order of significance:

  • flexibility" - access to the teaching material (e.g. on the Web, or computer conference discussions) can take place at any time (24 hours of the day, 7 days a week) and from many locations (e.g. oil rigs) .
  • time to reflect - rather than having to react 'on one's feet', asynchronous systems allow the learner time to mull over ideas, check references, refer back to previous messages and take any amount of time to prepare a comment .
  • situated learning - because the technology allows access from home and work, the learner can easily integrate the ideas being discussed on the course with the working environment, or access resources on the Internet as required on the job .
  • cost-effective technology - text based asynchronous systems require little bandwidth and low end computers to operate, thus access, particularly global access is more equable.

Other Advantages

  • Allows students to access material at any time.
  • Supplements classroom resources.
  • Allows students and instructors to communicate with each other at any time.
  • Typically useful for large audiences.
  • Useful where the need is not immediate.
  • Ideally suited to structured content requiring pre-examination.


  • Takes more time and resources.
  • Loss of face to face contact, if this were the only mode.
  • Possibility for overload of resource material.
  • Possible loss of a sense of continuity and immediacy.

CLICK on Various Kinds of ODL Materials

Handout related to Delivery Methods

Blended Learning

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Work individually. Consider your own working environment. Go over the different types of synchronous and asynchronous methods of delivery you are currently using and others that you can use in your context. In any one session that you plan how many types of delivery methods do you employ?

Blending Learning is an educational formation that integrates elearning techniques including online delivery of materials through web pages, discussion boards and/or email with traditional teaching methods including lectures, in-person discussions, seminars, or tutorials.

Think about an online course. How often do students interact with one another as well as their tutor? What forms of communication technologies do they utilize? Do they they use one or more or a combination of communication technology for teaching and learning purposes? Imagine a situaion where students meet once a week using different forms of combined communicaton technologies like audio and videoconferencing for learning. This combination is termed as blended learning.

An audioconference or a videoconference can be facilitated through the application of combined multiple media communication technologies. Examples of combined multiple media technologies for blended delivery and learning are as follows:

  • text and graphics transmitted with a document camera
  • computer graphics, web sites, and videotapes transmitted and viewed by all students

Blending different learning technologies in a course provides an effective learning environment. It also allows for different delivery options for various ODL courses.

3. Learner Support

Learner support is a 'support system' underpinning material and learning task provisions. This defines learner support as the means through which individuals are enabled to make use of institutionalised provision. Learner supporters are 'intermediaries', able to talk the language of the student/learner and to interpret the materials and procedures of complex bureaucratic organisations (Sewart, 1993). While course production might work within a management model appropriate to manufacturing industry, Sewart likens learner support to a service industry, in which the needs of customers are paramount. Learner support activities are produced and consumed simultaneously, a process in which the learner/consumer must participate actively, as well as the tutor/supporter. One of the major reasons for the fairly high drop out rates in ODL programmes is the lack of adequate learner support. The problem of learner support becomes more critical when interaction between tutor and learner is not as constant as that which may exist in face-to-face classes.

One of the key questions to address as a provider of ODL is the extent and manner of support you will be offering to learners. All learners need access to some kind of 'tutor' to help guide them through the sticky patches. The range of possibilities extends from old-fashioned 'correspondence tuition' to regular face to face meetings and includes student/student peer support. Many factors combine to influence what level of support is appropriate, ranging from the geographical distribution of learners to the cost of providing a given level of service. But support there must be if learners are to complete in any numbers. {Mark Endean,2006)

Two vital elements of successful ODL programs are the quality of learning resources and the efficacy of delivery mechanisms. However, given that students might have limited access to support from teachers and other learners, the social aspect of ODL also deserves attention in education for development. While experienced students with good learning skills might succeed in ODL conditions that provide only limited contact with instructors and other learners, the drop-out rate in ODL is troubling. Students with less experience in academic education and training are the main constituency for ODL in development. Thus, in order for education to assist in the achievement of development goals, it is vital to address social aspects of learning. Students require access to appropriate and adequate support and social contact in order to decrease drop-out rates and increase successful course or program completion. (Open and Distance Learning —Lessons and Issues, Jocelyn Calvert,2006)

Click on Media:Learner support handout.odt for handout of the above on Learner Support.

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Please click on and read about online discussion forums.

  • Feedback mechanisms

The use of feedback mechanisms enable the instructor to identify and meet individual student needs. The following are some feedback mechanisms:

  • Pre-class study questions and advance organizers to encourage critical thinking and informed participation on the part of all learners.
  • Early in the course, require students to contact you and interact among themselves via electronic mail, so they become comfortable with the process. Maintaining and sharing electronic journal entries can be very effective toward this end.
  • Arrange telephone office hours using a toll-free number. Set evening office hours if most of your students work during the day.
  • Integrate a variety of delivery systems for interaction and feedback, including one-on-one and conference calls, fax, E-mail, video, and computer conferencing. When feasible, consider personal visits as well.
  • Contact each site (or student) every week if possible, especially early in the course. *Take note of students who don't participate during the first session, and contact them individually after class.
  • Use pre-stamped and addressed postcards, out-of-class phone conferences, and e-mail for feedback regarding course content, relevancy, pace, delivery problems, and instructional concerns.
  • Have students keep a journal of their thoughts and ideas regarding the course content, as well as their individual progress and other concerns. Have students submit journal entries frequently.
  • Use an on-site facilitator to stimulate interaction when distant students are hesitant to ask questions or participate. In addition, the facilitator can act as your on-site "eyes and ears".
  • Call on individual students to ensure that all participants have ample opportunity to interact. At the same time, politely but firmly discourage individual students or sites from monopolizing class time.
  • Make detailed comments on written assignments, referring to additional sources for supplementary information. Return assignments without delay, using fax or electronic mail, if practical.

Academic Counselling


What is counselling:

It is the process of helping the students in selecting, preparing,entering and progressing in the patterns, which comprise human activities in the educational, vocational, recreational field as well as in connection with community service group. Counselling prepares the student for his life. Counselling helps the student to identify his problems and get at solutions by himself.(DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION Commissionerate of Collegiate Education Module for Academic Counsellors in Government Colleges)

  • Peer review/ evaluation
peer review
  • Personal interaction/ availabilty

Students need to have personal interaction with instructors, content and other students. the following link provides an instrument for gauging/assessing student participation in online discussion

Learner Support in ODL : A model

Deschênes & Lebel (1994) addressed the very important issue of supporting the learning process in distance education. It is very often that distance education learners find themselves isolated in the educational process. This results in a decrease in motivation or they are very often tackling other priorities that come up in their life. Finally they no longer see the importance of continuing their studies.

The high drop-out rate of students in distance education courses has been the subject of various studies. The Internet, however, with its collaborative and networked infrastructure has significantly contributed to overcome the first problem by allowing interactive synchronous or asynchronous communication between peers and tutors and among peers themselves. Learning therefore becomes a kind of social process in these environments and the individual gets a sense of being someone involved in a social relationship with others sharing the same goals.

The two main models related to learning support are the academic and the autonomist model (Deschênes & Lebel, 1994). The academic model works in the sense that the support to learning has an urgency to recreate the relationship of tutor-student as in traditional face-to-face education. On the other hand, the autonomist model mainly favours interaction between the student and his learning objects and has a tendency towards the constructivist approach while according much more autonomy to the student.

As we mentioned above, while flexibility and independent learning are highly valued attributes in the concept of distance education, the feeling of loneliness and rejection very often take the place of the learner’s confidence and motivation to carry on with the course. The academic model seems to cater for this disadvantage since the simulation of a traditional environment is at the base of it while the autonomist model seems to cater for independence, flexibility and better learning methodology. The model shown in the figure below illustrates a combinatorial approach of both models that is adopted at the University of Mauritius in supporting the learning process for DE modules.

Learner support framework.JPG
E-Learning model at the University of Mauritius (Santally et al., 2005)


  1. Deschênes, A.-J. et Lebel, C. (1994). La conception du support à l'apprentissage dans des activités de formation à distance. La formation à distance maintenant (Conception of learning support in distance learning activities. Distance Education Today (Thème II, Texte IV). Québec : Télé-université.
  2. Santally, M., Govinda, M., & Senteni, A. (2005). The University of Mauritius e-Learning Model: Practice, Pedagogies and Tools. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications. 2005(1), pp. 619-625.

Let us Sum Up

In this unit we have looked at methods of delivery that can be applied in the delivery of ODL courses. You should by now have a sound understanding of various types of synchronous and asynchronous methods of delivery. You should also be able to classify the various types of methods under the broad categories of synchronous and asynchronous.We have also looked at the contributions and impact of delviery methods on the quality of learner support services a learning institution can offer. Examples of common types of learner support services like discussion forums, feedback mechanisms, academic counselling, peer review/evaluation and personal interaction have been mentioned in this module. Remember whatever support services your institution offer, you need to make sure they support the delivery methods employed by your institution. We know that when methods of course delivery are well planned, adequately resourced and effectively implemented, the distance learner will find the course very interesting and the course material much more user friendly.


Please find here resources that you can use to facilitate a workshop on this Module.

Plan for Workshop

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