International Council for Open and Distance Education (2010) ICDE Policy Forum Report – Barriers and strategies for ODL Pretoria, South Africa: ICDE

This report from Presidents of (mainly public) Open and Distance Learning Universities lists a number of barriers to the uptake of open and distance learning (ODL), and suggests some strategies for overcoming them.


The main barriers identified are:

  • insufficient political goodwill
  • financial constraints
  • failure to engage allies
  • institutional challenges
  • professional deficiency
  • learner issues
  • technological barriers


Strategies proposed to combat these barriers are as follows:

  • advocacy for ODL
  • emphasis on quality
  • collaboration to promote change
  • address internal organizational issues.


Detailed reading of this short, four page document is recommended for those who want to dig further into this topic. However, my conclusions on reading this are as follows:

  • I agree that open and distance learning are still strategically important, as a means of widening access, increasing flexibility for learners, and supporting lifelong learning
  • Is their analysis correct? It seems to me that online distance learning is growing rapidly in all countries; however, open learning is not. Is this though because in most developed countries a majority of students who want to go to conventional university can now do so? A clear distinction needs to be made between developed and developing countries, and open and distance education here.
  • this is a document that seems to focus blame outside the existing ODL institutions (mainly on restrictions by governments): ‘nobody loves us’. There may be good reasons why.
  • ODL institutions themselves need to do a lot more to adapt to major changes in education and society, not least technology developments, rather than blaming the outside world and in particular hostile governments (although that too can be a problem, especially in some developing countries – see also my previous blog, How Higher Education Policy Really Works). It would have been good to have seen some honest self-criticism in the document. For instance do we need separate, dedicated publicly funded open learning institutions any more? If so, what should they look like, and what should be their business model? What is the response of ODL institutions to the open educational resources movement? (Here was a real chance to highlight some of the limitations of current OER strategies and what the ODL institutions could do to rectify them.)
  • above all, the ODL institutions need a new vision for their mission based on currently realities that will carry weight with governments, rather than defending an old model whose time has probably passed in most countries. I will do another post on what I see as the main barriers to open learning, which would provide a set of criteria for any organization wishing to further more open access to education.
  • lastly, probably inevitable when Presidents meet, the focus was on preserving the institution, rather than on providing the services that students needs.

This document suggested to me more the thrashings of the last dinosaurs than the emergence of a vibrant new species. Message to the ICDE institutions: I think you need to reinvent yourselves if you are to survive.


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