Openness Dimension of Distance Teaching Universities

Openness Dimension of Distance Teaching Universities

Sarah Guri-Rosenblit (The Open University of Israel, Israel)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch228
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Abstract

Distance teaching universities are often referred to as “open universities”, even if they are not called an “open university”. The use of the term “open” supposes that education and learning have traditionally been closed, by various barriers, such as entrance requirements, time constraints, geographical location. and so forth, and assumes that an open learning institution purports to overcome these barriers or part of them. “Distance education” and “open learning” are used synonymously by some scholars and practitioners. Many scholars attribute similar characteristics to both of them, such characteristics as extending access to various educational frameworks, employing flexible schedules, enhancing self-directed learning. Others distinguish between them. The fact is that the adjective “open” is qualitative, value loaded, and highly relative. Its use is confusing unless the context indicates the dimensions of openness that relate to it. Education can be open or closed in many different ways and “open learning” can take place either in a classical university or in a distance teaching institution.
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Introduction And Background

Distance teaching universities are often referred to as “open universities”, even if they are not called an “open university”. The use of the term “open” supposes that education and learning have traditionally been closed, by various barriers, such as entrance requirements, time constraints, geographical location. and so forth, and assumes that an open learning institution purports to overcome these barriers or part of them.

“Distance education” and “open learning” are used synonymously by some scholars and practitioners. Many scholars attribute similar characteristics to both of them, such characteristics as extending access to various educational frameworks, employing flexible schedules, enhancing self-directed learning. Others distinguish between them. The fact is that the adjective “open” is qualitative, value loaded, and highly relative. Its use is confusing unless the context indicates the dimensions of openness that relate to it. Education can be open or closed in many different ways and “open learning” can take place either in a classical university or in a distance teaching institution.

In Holmberg’s view, today’s usage blurs the distinction between the two terms because of “the strong influence of the British Open University and other distance teaching organizations that have adopted practices corresponding to and names containing the adjective ‘open’” (Holmberg, 1995, 4). For Daniel, the tendency to use the terms “distance education” and “open learning” interchangeably sprang from an “understandable desire to identify new institutions with the overall purpose for which they were established rather than with the instructional means they intended to use” (Daniel, 1990, 106). Rossetti (1989) defined six major characteristics of “open learning”: open entry, individualized learning, self-assessment, learner support, self-pacing, and many start dates.

Confusion still reigns among scholars as to the precise definition of “open learning” and “distance education”. One might surmise that it is not entirely accidental that universities which decided to adopt an open access policy have defined themselves as “open universities”, while most of those imposing entry requirements define themselves as “distance teaching universities”. However, it is important to keep in mind that admission criteria constitute only one aspect of openness. This chapter examines the major openness dimensions of distance teaching institutions, focusing mainly on the large-scale distance teaching universities that were established since the 1970s, following the model of the British Open University. Unquestionably, many other universities all over the world, that offer currently distance study through various operating models, adopted most, if not all, of the openness dimensions of the single-mode distance teaching universities. But a few decades ago the latter were pioneers in opening up the gates of academia to heterogeneous and diverse clienteles that for a variety of reasons remained outside the conventional university (Bell & Tight, 1993; Daniel, 1996; Guri-Rosenblit, 1999, 2001). They contributed most notably to the democratization of higher education by reaching out to students dispersed at a wide range of locations, by enabling part-time study, by designing flexible curricula, and by providing networks of intensive support throughout the study process.

This short overview examines the major openness dimensions of distance teaching universities. It focuses on: widening access to higher education; place of study; pace of study; flexible study programs; and student-oriented policies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Distance Education: Educational frameworks in which the learner is physically separated from the teacher at least at certain stages of the learning process.

Distance Teaching Universities: Universities that teach students via a wide range of distance education methods and technologies.

Open Admission: A policy of admitting students to higher education institutions (or any other type of teaching institutes) without setting any entry requirements.

Open Universities: This term is often used interchangeably with ‘distance teaching universities’, though a handful of distance education providers are entitled as an ‘open university’. All of the open universities employ an open admission policy.

Open Learning: A qualitative, value loaded and highly relative term. Its use is confusing unless the context indicates the dimensions of openness that relate to it. Many scholars attribute to ‘open learning’ characteristics of extending access to various educational frameworks, employing flexible schedules, and enhancing self-directed learning.

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