Into the past: Exploring open and distance learning

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
― Confucius

This weeks research articles all contained historical aspects connected to open and e-learning; it makes sense to explore and understand the history of something before touching on the more current research. Whilst delving through these readings, posting and responding to the reading and comments on, I realized that before compiling this week’s post, I needed a better understanding of the definitions and terminology presented. While I have a good understanding of the terms online learning, distance and blended learning, particularly due to the school I work in (U-Connect); some of the other terms, I had rather fuzzy understandings of.

The first web page I encountered in my search appeared to contain the information I was seeking, so I decided to start here. I would like to reflect back on these terms to see if I would add anything to them or adjust them in any manner as I go through the material in the course.

e-Learning: I found it interesting that within this page, Bates ( 2008) identified it as encompassing all types of learning that have a digital component.

MOOC’s: “massive, open, online courses” (Bates, 2008).  These courses are free to take (although you may have to pay for a certificate at the end) and have no academic requirements but do not allow users to gain any credits (although it appears that for some you may receive a certificate). It seems to me these courses would be useful or certain things but also limiting as, based on this definition you would not be able to obtain a degree through the use of a MOOC. I am going to add onto this definition with some more specifics from one of the articles read this week;   Mapping research trends from 35 years of publications in Distance Education  where Zawack-Richter and Naidu (2016)  discuss two types of MOOC’s: cMOOC’s ( collaboration between teachers and learners) and, x MOOC’S run by experts (contains lecture videos, forums and quizzes).

Open Learning: This seems to be more of a philosophy for education where barriers are removed thus giving everyone an equal opportunity to learn.

Open Educational Resources (OER) Free digital learning material. This seems to be very connected to open learning in that if everyone has access to learning materials, it gives everyone an equal opportunity to learn.

Distance Education: “Students can study in their own time, at the place of their choice and without face-to face contact with a teacher” (Bates). An important distinction is made by Bates when he states that “distance education programs may not be open”. One example he gives is of UBC where students must meet the same admission requirements as a student attending a traditional face-to face class.

Flexible Learning: Creates increased access and openness as if allows for flexibility for the learner. May manifest in a variety of different ways.

I also looked up open university and retrieved this information from Wikipedia.

“An open university is a university with an open-door academic policy, with minimal or no entry requirements.[1] Open universities may employ specific teaching methods, such as open supported learning or distance education. However, not all open universities focus on distance education, nor do distance-education universities necessarily have open admission policies.[2] “  

This sounds pretty fuzzy to me still………but it appears the big factor for an open university is the lack of admission requirements.

One of the articles we looked at, Mapping research trends from 35 years of publications in Distance Education by Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Som Naidu (2016) found trends in the research around distance education connected to “professionalization and institutional consolidation (1980–1984), instructional design and educational technology (1985–1989), quality assurance in distance education (1990–1994), student support and early stages of online learning (1995–1999), the emergence of the virtual university (2000–2004), collaborative learning and online interaction patterns (2005–2009), and interactive learning, MOOCs and OERs (2010–2014)” (245).  One point the authors made that seems to be consistent in all of the literature I have looked at as well, is that predominantly all of the articles looked at higher education. The challenge here is, as a high-school blended- learning teacher looking to improve my practice, often what applies in higher education does not apply in high-school.  While there are still valuable connected learnings, this is, in my opinion a gap in the literature that I hope will be addressed in the future as more high-schools take on a blended approach.

Another connection I made to the article was around their discussion of attrition rates and how high they were in distance courses as opposed to the traditional courses. This is a concern where I work as well as the students enrolled in online courses only also have a higher attrition rate than our blended students. While this shows support for adding in components like synchronous learning, the authors make a good point when they discuss how this in a way defeats the purpose of distance learning as it takes away the flexibility and openness of it. While this is true, I wonder about how to balance this out within high-school courses as we do want the kids to be successful and for some students it may be argued that too much flexibility and openness leads to a lack of structure and accountability that may be needed for them to be successful. As quoted in the article, “Early in 2000 Garrison, Anderson, and Archer developed their widely cited community of inquiry model, which posits that learning occurs through the interaction of social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence in computer conferencing educational settings (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 20002001).”.  If this is the case then perhaps, for high-schoolers at least, we should find a way to build in further social presence and teacher presence in fully online classes.

A couple of other interesting points brought up within this article was (1) when the authors referred to how open learning really is when learners a) need to be able to read and write and, b) are judged by western standards; and, ( 2) the comment about how “learners and instructors use and interpret silence”  ( i.e. non-participation, confusion, or thoughtful reflection) (260 ).  This point was interesting and one this I would like to explore further to determine what online silence means. Our LMS allows for us to collect user data on what they view, how long it is viewed for, how long they were logged in, or if they have not been logging in at all. I wonder how this data could best be used to help students be more successful when working at home.  When thinking back on the reasons for silence, a student who views the same content multiple times may be confused or may need more time to fully understand a topic.  I  also wonder how the age of the learner might come into play here as the high-school students I teach could fall equally into all three categories. I would say that most often in the classroom it would be “confusion”, while most often at home it would be non-participation. I like how they talk about the interpreting silence as it is applicable in both face to face and online teaching. For me, online silence would look like; kids not viewing the course and course contents, not reading messages and not completing their assignments. I wonder what would be the best way to discover if they are confused or just choosing not to participate as sometimes students do not like to share that they are confused.

As a whole, this article, while addressing research over the 35 years, also highlights how long some of the research has been going on for. While some have changed over time, most of the concepts researched, even those from earlier time periods are still topics of research today.

For the following two articles, I have included ideas from the annotations I created in

In the article, On the role of openness in education: A historical reconstruction,  (Peter & Deimann, 2013), the authors discuss open education and the history of open education. Some of the points I connected with were as follows:

  1. The exact form that learners would choose (or not) to provide support for their individual learning is hard to infer. There is a risk of assuming that all learners require, or even prefer to be part of a larger community.” ( p.12 )

I found this interesting because the mini lit review I recently completed provided support for the idea that creating a community may lead to higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and success.  But, I then wondered,  perhaps some learners only want to learn a specific skill, for example, required for their jobs; and, as a result would rather not have the interactive community component. Potentially, one could theorize that including this component would add time to the course whereas, without it once could complete the course in a more efficient timeframe.  I think this depends on the age and the course. Adult learners should be given the choice while high school students may have greater success when involved as part of a community.

2. I found the discussion around open learning and money interesting. This led me to do some further research on some of the platforms mentioned in the article.  One platform I spent a little more time looking was Coursera. Coursera earned around 140 million in 2018; according to Forbes; definitely a lot of money involved here (Shah, 2018) . I looked at the cost for courses and while not free, they appeared to be substantially less expensive than most brick and mortar courses. This got me thinking about access, as online courses create access for a larger populations than standard courses. And as they often do not require any transcripts/pre-requisites, this again creates greater access and potentially provides personalized learning as you don’t have to take A to take B. The costs involved in taking these course would then be a limiting factor as again, some may not have the money to take a course. I’m also curious about the free courses and if they are comparable to the ones that students have to pay for…. I also wonder if our government would ever fund open access so that education could be free to all who wanted it? Is this even feasible?


The final article, Twenty years of EDtech, (Weller, 2018) provides a quick overview of some of the changes in edTech from 1998-2018.

I connected with the following key points:

  1. In 2016 several people independently approached me about blockchain—the distributed, secure ledger for keeping the records that underpin Bitcoin. The question was always the same: “Could we apply this in education somehow?” ( p)

Block chain was new to me and I wondered, Would this be more applicable for higher education? Is this being used in any universities? It sounds like it’s similar to some of the other ideas mentioned, but rather than a singular component it contains multiple components in one place with higher levels of security. Is it possible for something like this to address privacy issues/concerns in education? This is a big concern within my district as I’m sure it is in many others. If the use of blockchain would allow students to privately use online apps/ social media tools etc, I could see it having a future in education.

Again, as repeated in multiple articles and, something I’ve reflected on before in my blog posts is the ideas that trying to be constantly on top of new technology and trying to incorporate the newest greatest thing may also lead to the use of technology for technologies sake rather than for pedagogical reasons.  This may also lead administrators to purchase equipment that is never, or rarely used.

As I  use a LMS within my job, I found it interesting when the authors discussed the limitations of LMS’s.  The LMS we use also has limitations which can be frustrating for teachers as some programs are not compatible/embeddable within this system. However, the options for change are limited and building a new system is something that requires time and skill.

Now What?

While portions of each article were redundant in that some of these topics are common themes within research, the historical aspect was interesting and there were some components within each that had me thinking about my teaching as well as some further directions I could take with my research.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *