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«Band Studien und Berichte der Arbeitsstelle Fernstudienforschung der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg Volume 14 Hilary Perraton Theory, ...»

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Studien und Berichte der Arbeitsstelle Fernstudienforschung

der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg


Studien und Berichte der Arbeitsstelle Fernstudienforschung

der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg

Volume 14

Hilary Perraton

Theory, evidence and practice in

open and distance learning

BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg

Studien und Berichte der Arbeitsstelle Fernstudienforschung

der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg


Dr. Ulrich Bernath Prof. Dr. Anke Hanft Dr. Thomas Hülsmann Prof. Dr. Barbara Moschner Prof. Dr. Olaf Zawacki-Richter Oldenburg, January 2012 All volumes of the ASF Series relevant for the MDE are now available as

e-Books (PDF-files) under the following Creative Commons License:

© Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Center for Lifelong Learning (C3L) Publisher: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg Tel.: + 049 441 798-2261 Telefax: + 049 441 798-4040 e-mail: bisverlag@uni-oldenburg.de ISBN 978-3-8142-2241-7 Content ‘Theory, evidence and practice in open and distance learning‘ by Hilary Perraton assembles a number of previously published papers, spanning a period from 1973 (earliest) to 2010 (most recent). The papers are re-published, as a rule, without further edition except, in a few cases, where otherwise too long papers have been abridged.

Each paper has been put into context by a short


which provides the background against which the paper has to be read.

The context, largely, is British. However, the British story is a major narrative thread in the of distance education quilt. To this date the British Open University (OU) and the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) serve as major reference points for any distance educator who wishes to claim more than a superficial understanding of the discipline. And there are few distance educators whose life is so enmeshed in the disciplinary formation of distance education as the life of Hilary Perraton. Hilary ‘was there’ when the National Extension College (NEC) tested the viability of the approach of teaching at a d istance, later implemented at the Open University (OU); he ’was there’ helping to create the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL). While some of the institutions, to the formation of which he contributed, are less well known, as Botswana Extension College (now Botswana College of Open and Distance Learning) or the University of the West Indies, and some have turned out not to be sustainable (such as the International Research Foundation for Open Learning, IRFOL), all added to the rich quilt of experience stretching over nearly fifty years and drawing from culturally as different places as Barbados, Botswana or Pakistan.

But experience has to be read not in the ‘passive voice’. Especially at the formative days of distance education there were strong theoretical and even normative agenda (‘ideology’) shaping the practice of distance education. In fact, one could see his argumentative core resting on a tripod of (i) ideological commitment to widening access to education; (ii) the concern for quality in education (reflected in the building interaction in the DE system); and (iii) the practitioner’s acknowledgement of practicalities on the ground.

In spite of all this, the book is not meant to take the reader on a biographical journey (this is one of the reasons why the chronological arrangement was avoided), nor is it an introduction or a systematic treatise on distance education.

One could see the assembled papers as ‘sondes’ (a sonde is an instrument to access/ grasp distant or difficult to access places in order to measure something) or as ‘probes’ taken from historically/geographically distant and difficult to access contexts, in which theory of distance education is used to take measure: We see how the perennial questions of distance education theory (‘Is there a teacher in the system?’; ‘How to build in two way communication in a system at a t ime when technologies of responsive interaction at a distance were not yet available?’) play out in different times and contexts. This adds, as we hope, depth to the understanding of distance education where often the focus today is narrowed to internal and, above all, issues of technology.

Hence reading this book is likely to be interest-driven rather than linear. The index may help here (particular attention was given to developing the index as a comprehensive search tool).

The reader interested in ‘learning’, or ‘cost effectiveness’ will be able to probe into distant contexts and will be able to see how the theoretical parameters of distance education played out in these contexts.

Franziska Vondrlik deserves our thanks for diligently editing the book and Ulrich Bernath for contributing the index.

The Editors November, 2011 Acknowledgments Paper 1: “Is there a teacher in the system?” was first published in the Open University journal, “Teaching at a Distance”, 1, 1974, pp55-60.

Paper 2: “Two-way communication within a distance-teaching system” was written as a p aper for the 1975 conference of the International Council for Correspondence Education and reproduced in “The system of distance education” (ed. J Granholm) Malmö: ICCE, 1976, pp79-85.

Paper 3: “The roles of theory and generalisation in the practice of distance education” was presented by invitation at a seminar at the Zentrales Institut für Fernstudienforschung of the Fernuniversität, Hagen and originally published as ZIFF Papiere 67 (Hagen: ZIFF, 1987).

Paper 4: “International research in open and distance learning” is taken from a longer paper of the same name with the subtitle “Report of a feasibility study”

published by the International Research Foundation for Open Learning (Cambridge:

IRFOL, 1997).

Paper 5: “Rural education in Botswana” is adapted from “Starting the Botswana Extension College” (IEC Broadsheets on Open Learning, 11), (Cambridge: International Extension College, 1977).

Paper 6: “The virtual wandering scholar: Policy issues for international higher education” was the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, 1997 on Advancing international perspectives, Adelaide, 8-11 July.

Paper 7: “Technologies, education, development and costs: A third look at the educational crisis” was presented at a round table “University and technology for literacy/Basic education partnerships in developing countries”, called by the International Institute for Literacy, 2001, Paris 10-12 September.

Paper 8: “Well-trodden routes and mountains still to climb” was the keynote speech for the annual conference of the Distance Education Association of Southern Africa, 2004, Maseru 18-19 September.

Paper 9: “Techniques for teaching at a distance” is adapted from “The techniques of

writing correspondence courses” (IEC Broadsheets on Open Learning, 2), (Cambridge:

International Extension College, 1977) Paper 10: “Choosing technologies for education” was presented at the Caribbean Telisphere conference, 1999 (St Michael, Barbados 24-27 November) and subsequently published in “Journal of educational media”, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2000, pp 31-38. The journal’s website is at http://www.tandfonline.com.

Paper 11: “Mass media and basic education” is adapted from a World Bank report “Basic education and agricultural extension” (© International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington DC 20433, USA), 1983.

Paper 12: “The cost effectiveness of distance education for primary teacher training” is adapted from a paper presented at a regional seminar on distance education for primary school teachers, 1996, Bangkok, 21-24 October, then published in “Distance education for primary school teachers” (Asian Development Bank (ed.), Manila, 1997), pp 111-155.

Paper 13: “Quality and standards in teacher training by open and distance learning” was presented at a C ommonwealth of Learning Pan-African dialogue on inservice teacher training by open and distance learning, 2001, Windhoek, 9-12 July.

Paper 14: “Distance learning scholarships in higher education” is adapted from a paper “Access to international postgraduate study: The role of distance-learning scholarships” presented at the research conference of the European Distance Education Network, 2008, Paris 20-22 October.

Paper 15: “Capability, development and open and distance learning” was the keynote speech for a co nference on distance learning for health, London International Development Centre, University of London, 2010, 26-27 October.

Introduction Open and distance learning has been better served by its practitioners than by its theorists and researchers. It came in from the cold in the 1960s and its achievements since then have been epitomised by the success of the Open University in Britain and its many siblings abroad. Before that, it was generally known only for the work of commercial correspondence colleges, as a means of training in unglamorous professions like accountancy, at outback schools in Australia, and, improbably, for training Soviet engineers. Alongside its achievements and its new legitimacy it has since generated an extensive descriptive literature, some, often narrow, research and even some theoretical discussion. Its successes are more impressive than the literature while the scale of the work it is now doing within the world’s educational systems make it worth asking, from theory and practice, what makes it work and how can it be strengthened. This book is therefore about evidence, ideology, theory, generalisation and practice in education. It looks at these in relation to open and distance learning and draws from its record over the last forty-odd years.

There is a simple, probably uncontentious, argument that links them. Public policy is guided by ideology and ought to be informed by evidence. Ideology is always needed to guide choice between, say, policies of vigorous state activity aimed at redistribution and minimal state policies designed to allow the freest play to market forces. The gathering and interpretation of evidence demands research. Research in its turn depends on sound methodology and on theory or generalisation. (Methodology is itself likely to depend on theory but this may be at one remove: methodologies for educational research often depend as much on theories of statistics, of sociology or of economics as on those of education.) Good research can then have two kinds of outcome: first, it may provide guidance for practice, and second it is likely to stimulate the further development of theory or generalisation to guide continuing research. Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.

Neither research nor the development of policy takes place in a vacuum. Social research therefore needs an understanding of the context or milieu within which a particular phenomenon is being studied. Our understanding of Aristotle, or of the Black Death, or of the British invention of the Open University, is impoverished if we know nothing of 5th century Athens, or 14th century feudalism, or 20th century British social history.

The papers within this book attempt to set their accounts of open and distance learning within the context of education and society in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The context of the book is personal as well as public insofar as it d raws from one individual’s experience of working in and around open and distance learning from the 1960s to the 2000s. A personal introduction seems appropriate, even justifiable; the main argument begins again after seven paragraphs.

————— The story begins in the early 1960s, a h alf-decade of hope. Even if the image of Camelot has acquired a layer of tarnish over the years, the election of Kennedy in 1960 felt like a liberation at the time. A president too young to remember the first world war took over from a general and his army of contemporaries whose world views had been


shaped in the first. Despite the 1959 re-election as prime minister of Macmillan, himself a first-war soldier, Britain was soon to have its own revolution of youth and hope. The angry young men had already destroyed and rebuilt our theatre. Macmillan and his gifted colonial secretary Iain Macleod demolished the empire with surprisingly little opposition. The Beatles emerged, initially to a chorus of antagonism and hostility.

Harold Wilson, who had been the youngest cabinet minister in generations, and talked of change forged in the white heat of technology, brought the same sense of youth to British politics as Kennedy had to America, when he was elected in 1964. Eisenhower’s golf courses and Macmillan’s grouse moors were tokens of the past. Memories of the war had retreated. In surprising juxtaposition with our fear of nuclear holocaust these were years of hope, a dawn in which new ideas could blissfully be alive.

They were years of hope and innovation in education. In Britain the Crowther report on education for 15 to 18 year olds had noticed in 1959 that the system was failing many children: IQ tests on conscripts showed that too many of the brightest left school early.

Crowther argued that this was not in the national interest and proposed to do something about it. The Wilson government of 1964 backed the expansion of comprehensive schools with its circular 10/65. The expansion of higher education was in its turn legitimised by the Robbins report in 1963 so that ‘Apart from electronics and national gas, higher education [grew] faster than any major national enterprise in the 1960s’ (Layard, King and Moser 1969: 13).

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