Jung, I. (ed.) Open and Distance Education Theory Revisited Singapore: Springer, 122 pp, US$44.99 (ePub issue); US$29.95 per chapter

Why this book?

This book, edited by Insung Jung of the International Christian University, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan, is a collection of chapters by different authors that re-examines theories of open and distance learning in the context of more recent technological development such as online learning and MOOCs.

In her introduction to the book, Jung suggests

  • four foundational theories,
  • four emerging theories that have been developed in response to the new and different contexts, plus
  • three theories ‘borrowed’ from other fields that have been helpful in determining new and emerging systems, modes, and practices of ODE in non-formal learning.

Jung notes that the majority of the recent adopters of online learning and MOOCs appear to be unaware of these theories and their ramifications. Jung states that:

there is a pressing need to revisit the time-honored theories developed in the era of correspondence education and traditional distance education, review accumulated research evidence regarding the appropriateness of these theories, and refine and update the theoretical frameworks to reflect the changing environments.

This is the primary goal of the book.

Foundational theories

Jung suggests four foundational theories of open and distance learning, each of which is described and analysed by a different author:

  • autonomy and independence (e.g. Knowles, Wedemeyer, Holmberg), written by Colin Latchem, who sadly died just after submitting his chapter
  • industrialized teaching and learning (e.g. Peters), written by Olaf Zawicki-Richter
  • transactional distance (Moore), written by Rick Shearer and Eunsung Park
  • openness, written by Marcus Diemann,which includes a discussion of OER and MOOCs and their relationship to openness, but not any direct discussion of open pedagogy.

Emerging theories 

Jung’s emerging theories are:

  • connectivism (Downes, Siemens),written by Insung Jung
  • community of inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson), written by Karen Swan
  • extended spatial model of e-learning (Jung and Latchem), written by Mimi Miyoung Lee
  • a pedagogy-andragogy-heutagogy continuum (Blaschke), written by Lisa Blaschke

Borrowed theories

Insung Jung’s borrowed theories are:

  • instructional design theory, written by Rob Branch and Jill Stefaniak
  • media theory, written by me
  • motivation theory, written by Maggie Harnett

Insung Jung also provides a final concluding chapter in which she proposes a framework which could help ODE researchers and practitioners select appropriate theories for their areas of research and development. From this she proposes the following ‘top three considerations’ for future ODE researchers and practitioners:

  • ODE research and practice should be guided by relevant ODE theories;
  • new ODE theories need to be developed and existing theories should be refined to more clearly and meaningfully understand and explain changing ODE contexts, especially at the macro-level;
  • we need to bring educational philosophies and ODE traditions from previously unexplored regions into the refinement and reinterpretation of ODE theories.

My review

First this book is a very useful and, (at under 130 pages, including a downloadable epub version), a very readable introduction and overview of theory in open and distance education. The chapters by and large are concise and clearly written. With one exception (discussed below) it is fairly comprehensive in its treatment of open and distance education theory. The book will be particularly useful for graduate students intending to conduct research in open and distance learning. 

However, it will not be helpful for those looking for guidance on the theoretical implications of the radical changes to teaching through modern developments in online learning, blended and hybrid learning, and through the use of new technologies such as virtual reality, simulations and educational games, and artificial intelligence. 

This is because I am seeing an increasing divergence between the ‘old’ field of open and distance education, and the newly emergent field of digital learning. Unfortunately the digitalization of education seems increasingly to be running in parallel and separately from open and distance education, but nevertheless the increasing digitalization of teaching and learning has massive theoretical and practical implications for open and distance learning. For instance, although the vestiges of industrialization will continue in both campus-based and distance teaching organizations, the digitalization of learning is resulting in the need for new approaches to theories of teaching and learning, as well as to organizational structure. This is not to say that many of the concepts in teaching and learning in general, and the theories that have resulted in such concepts, will not be relevant, but new developments such as the application of artificial intelligence to teaching and learning will require radically different analyses than that provided by traditional open and distance education theories.

I am also concerned by the fusion of ‘open’ and ‘distance’ learning in some of the chapters. Although they are often combined, they come from completely different philosophical positions. You can have distance learning, such as fully online graduate programs, that are offered only to those who can afford (a) the high student fees and (b) have rigid and limiting requirements for prior qualifications. You can have ‘open’ courses that can be delivered in a campus environment. Thus I was disappointed that there was no discussion in the book about open pedagogy (although there was discussion about OER and MOOCs). Open pedagogy may or may not be a significant educational development, but it needs to be considered as a topic in its own right in any book on theory in open and distance education.

Lastly, these are not just abstract or nitpicking issues. Institutions such as the UK Open University and Athabasca University are desperately struggling to survive in an increasingly digital era. Becoming a digital open university goes far beyond moving printed texts to downloadable pdfs, or massifying online learning through MOOCs or Futurelearn. The survival and relevance of open universities depend essentially in understanding and accommodating the theoretical implications of the digitalization of teaching and learning, which are significantly different from – although not necessarily antithetical to – the theoretical positions of traditional open and distance learning institutions. 

Lastly I am sure readers will see the irony of a book on open and distance education which costs US$45 for an electronic version and US$30 to download a single chapter, especially since the authors get no payment from the publisher. This is predatory publishing – the complete opposite of open publishing.

So, yes, as an author of one of the chapters I am complicit in this example of predatory publishing, but theory is important, especially in providing guidance in new and uncharted territory, which is where education is headed. The book was never intended to provide a theoretical analysis of digitilalized teaching and learning, even though I would like to see such a book, and for those still interested in open and distance education the book provides an essential reader on the relevant theories that have shaped its development.




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