User:BoeLahui/Tutor's Manual for Distance and Open Learning Courses/Reading: Distance and Open Learning

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Distance and Open Learning

Distance Learning

Distance learning is characterized by the following four main elements:

  1. the separation of teacher and learner.
  2. the influence of an educational organisation.
  3. the use of print and other media to unite the teacher and learner and carry the educational content.
  4. the provision of two-way communication.

  • This first element is implicit in the word distance (though there are other types of distance than the purely geographical), and is probably the distinguishing feature of this mode of delivery. The aim of distance is to help teachers to teach and students to learn when they are apart from each other.
  • The second element emphasizes the role of the providers of distance education which is to plan and prepare the learning materials and give support to the students.
  • The third element describes the usual manner which providers use to deliver the learning materials.
  • This fourth element highlights the importance of how providers can provide a two-way communication. Two-way communication can be provided by mail, telephone, fax, electronic mail, satelite or face-to-face meeting. In addition, most providers do include some form of group meeting, such as occasional tutorials, as well as one-to-one counselling in the teaching programme.

The usual pattern of study in distance education is that the student receives self-instructional learning materials which contain assignments for regular submission. Once submitted, an assignment is marked and commented on by a tutor, and then returned to the student. This pattern is repeated as the student progresses through the course of study. Assessment commonly consists of weighted assignment marks combined with a final examination.

Open Learning

Open Learning is a little more difficult to define than distance education, because of the different ways in which it is used. Some view open learning and distance education as practically equivalent, while others see distance learning as a spcial type or subset of open learning, along with such schemes as flexi study, resource-based training and study circles.

Essentially, the use of the word open implies that some feature or features of an educational programme have been freed up or made more flexible, to the advantage of the learners. Traditionally, this has often meant the opening up of entry into a course of study, but can also include flexibility in pacing, entry and exit time, place of study, attendance requirements, and so on.


To examine the relationships more closely, we can start by looking at a list of features of opening learning systems. Open learning courses will vary in the number of features incorporated into the learning system, but will all include at least some of them. Flexibility in open learning can include:

  • flexible sequencing
  • negotiated objectives and content
  • negotiated learning method
  • open entry
  • negotiated assessment
  • study anywhere
  • start any time
  • finish any time
  • tutors on demand
  • attendance at any time
  • choice of support

Considering the above list, you have probably realized that some of the items can be features of classroom-based courses.

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  1. Which of the items listed above are borrowed from student-centred learning?
  2. Which of the items listed above relate more specifically to the removal of barriers to participation as a result of social and political pressures?
  3. From the lists, identify some of the common features these two modes of education share?
  4. What are the implications of the two modes of learning for both tutors and learners?

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Have you realized that items 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11 have been borrowed from student-centred learning, and items 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 relate more specifically to the removal of barriers to participation as a result of social and political pressures?

But what does this mean to you as a tutor?

Take some time now to reflect on this question and share your thoughts with the person sitting next to you!

And so, what then are the common features the two modes share? And what are the implications for both tutors and leaners?

Common Features

What has emerged as prominent features of open learning systems is the use of pre-packaged self-instructional learning materials, accompanied by some form of tutorial support. It is these features, common to practically all distance education and most open learning programmes taht permit the application of this tutor's manual to both modes of learning.


The implications of both distance and open learning are that:

  • the tutor's influence is indirect.
  • the learning materials must be well organized and clear.
  • the learning environment may not be designed for or conducive to learning.
  • learners experience a high degree of freedom.
  • evaluation and feedback are often delayed.
  • leaners work without direct supervision.
  • learners require high levels of internal motivation, self-direction, self-evaluation and planning ability.

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So what conclusions can you draw from the discussion so far?


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Key points

Virtually all distance and open learning courses cater for adult students. It is therefore very important that you must be well-versed with how to tutor adults in open learning courses. It is imperative that you as a tutor:

  • recognise adults as mature people with their own agenda.
  • recognise work and life experiences of adults as a valuable asset in the teaching and learning situation.
  • as far as possible allow adult students to select what they study base on their perceived needs. It is therefore highly desirable that courses have considerable flexibility.
  • your relationships with the adult learner should be one of mutual respect.
  • remember that adults rarely study out of compulsion, so maintain interest and relevance so that learners continue with their studies.

So, what can you do as a tutor and how can you help students to learn effectively from learning materials?

Obviously, you have to appreciate that each learner has special problems and needs. You must appreciate the isolation that learners feel especially when compared to students attending face-to-face classes. When students attend an institution, they form group, and these groups provide points of reference. Students who work alone need:

  • help, guidance and encouragement.
  • reassurance and empathy.
  • two-way communication with their tutor.
  • prompt and constructive feedback on work done.
  • confidence in their tutor.

Remember that these needs can be filled by an empathetic tutor, who takes the time to get to know the students and responds quickly to their queries and perceived difficulties. This can be achieved through a number of avenues, including:

  • the assessing of assignments.
  • conducting tutorials.
  • telephone and/or face-to-face counselling.
  • on-line tutorials.

These are the four most common tasks of tutors. Each provides an opportunity, not just to assess students, but also to get to know them better and to help them in the learning process.