Nick Moe-Price, of the International Council for Distance Education, is leading an interesting discussion on ‘Is open and distance learning the key to Quality Higher Education for All?’ in UNESCO’s blog: Educational Technology Debate: Exploring ICT in Learning and Developing Countries (thanks to Stephen Downe’s OL Daily for directing me to this).

Here’s my initial contribution to the debate:

As someone who has worked all his life in open and distance learning, I of course fully support the expansion of distance and open learning. 

However, it should not be considered an either/or, for any country. For economic development and a civilized society we need mass education, or education for all, but delivered in a variety of forms. 

To be honest I don’t accept the argument that the ONLY way to expand access to education is through open and distance learning. Developing or less economically advanced countries will still need more physical schools, colleges and universities, including some elite research institutions focused especially on that country’s needs. However, open and distance learning could and probably should constitute a larger proportion if all learners are to be served. This means thinking carefully about how to build an integrated system so that all needs are served. 

One way to ensure that distance education is just as accepted as conventional education is to build new institutions with a mandate and resources (including training) for both campus-based and online teaching. In particular, over the next decade, we shall see more and more hybrid learning, where students do some study on campus and the rest online, so the dividing line between distance and campus-based teaching becomes increasingly blurred. 

Even with a broadened mandate for campus-based institutions, though, we are still likely to need some dedicated, large-scale mega distance teaching universities. In other words, there is no single solution, but the need for an integrated, multi-faceted approach to expanding educational opportunities around the world. But distance education and open learning will play an increasingly important part in any such strategy.

And please join in the debate yourself.



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