Practitioners and providers in distance education owe a great debt to the founders of the UK Open University (UKOU). The history of distance education can be broken into two eras, each separated by the successful establishment of the UKOU. The UKOU had as strong an incentive as any institution to improve quality — its very survival is dependent on its success. Prior to the establishment of the UKOU, distance education (or correspondence education, or extramural studies or external studies, as it was then known) was characterized by high attrition and high failure rates (White, 1974). The UKOU planners recognized this fact. They realized that, for the University to succeed, the causes of the high attrition and high failure rates had to be addressed. The fact that the University continues to this day is testament to its success. The way in which the UKOU tackled the issue of quality, carries some lessons for distance education providers today. It did so, not by targeting one key area, but by tackling the range of factors that affect the quality of a student’s experience of studying at a distance: by investing heavily in the presentation quality of materials; by making innovative use of media, (particularly the broadcast media); by putting in place a new type of organisational structure to support teaching staff in the work of course design, teaching, and assessment; and by building up a range of other support functions: establishing local study centres, employing local tutors, and instituting a program of residential schools.
The Shift To Online Distance Education
Online learning is not always distance learning, although in saying this it depends on whether one interprets distance as distance in place or distance in either place or time. Online learning can encompass a wide range of delivery modes, differing both in terms of the learner’s location as well as whether online learning is blended with face-to-face learning. Online distance education therefore refers to a subset of all online learning in which courses are delivered entirely or almost entirely online and there is a separation between the teacher and the student. Generally, this separation is conceived of in terms of place; however, given the fact that distance education is defined in terms of separation in either time or place, one could conceive of a form of online distance education that occurred on-campus,
Key Terms in this Chapter
Quality Audit: A process designed to provide systematic independent review of quality management system.
Peer Review: (in relation to course development) a process by which a Faculty member’s colleagues provide feedback on nominated aspects of a course’s design for the purpose of enhancing the quality of the course prior to the course being offered to students; informal peer review may occur through the adoption of team-based models of course development
Quality Framework: A conceptual framework for structuring quality processes by embedding principals of good practice in quality management systems
Quality Enhancement: (in relation to course delivery processes) a systematic approach to lifting the overall quality of an institution’s processes related to the activity in question
Quality Assurance: The process of ensuring that quality of a product of service meets some predetermined standard
Benchmarking: The process of regularly comparing aspects of an institution’s performance in relation to particular factors that affect quality with best practice in the field
Best Practice: Practice that represents the best in the field at any particular point in time