Constructing a Flexible Distance Learning Environment Through a Socio-Technical Perspective

Constructing a Flexible Distance Learning Environment Through a Socio-Technical Perspective

Tülay Görü Doğan (College of Communication, Çukurova University, Adana, Turkey) and Gülsün Eby (College of Open Education, Anadolu University, Eskisehir, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicthd.2014100105

Abstract

This research is a theory building study regarding the design of distance learning environments from a socio-technical perspective. Within this study, a synthesis of current theories and approaches in addition to established theories in the field of distance education will be conducted, with focus placed on the notion that a flexible learning environment may be designed based on social and technical elements. In this regard, the process of designing the aforementioned learning environment is expressed in a theoretical manner, with the following two theories comprising the basis of the study: (1) the Flexible Learning Approach and (2) the Socio-Technical Theory. A theoretical matrix is established within the study utilizing these theories, while each cell in the theoretical matrix provides a statement that determines a flow chart regarding the design of Flexible Distance Learning Environments.
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Introduction

With the development of information and communication technologies, the rapid transformation that has emerged in every field constantly changes and diversifies data and information (Kesim, 2007:1). As Şimşek (1994:1) states, accessing information from various sources in less time causes elemental transformations in all fields (ie. politics, economics, social, cultural, and technological). These transformations, in turn, allow positivist and traditional paradigms to be replaced with paradigms that go beyond positivism.

The Newtonian world machine paradigm which shaped our modern world view four hundred years ago retains its original understanding despite being refined and changed greatly since its inception has begun to give way to a paradigm beyond positivism (Rifkin & Howard, 2010:11). Contrary to the traditional paradigm, this rising paradigm has no single truth. It offers perspective in place of objectivity, in other words it offers points of views. The world of the 21st century is one in which the divide between the real and virtual is increasingly murky, in which the binary logic of 0 and 1 between true and false, the tradition of behaviorism and Newtonian understandings are being left behind. Rather than generating generalizable laws to explain social phenomenon, any given situation is analyzed in detail within it’s own context and unique dimensions. This has in turn led to deep changes in the paradigms of learning and interaction by influencing social sciences, and thereby the fields of education and communication. The cause of these rooted changes is the fact that previous learning paradigms are insufficient in the face of new circumstances, failing to provide solutions to contemporary problems and also failing to meet existing expectations (Şimşek, 1994:2). In a rapidly globalizing and flattening world, universities must be able to educate individuals who are capable of coping with rapid change, who can successfully perceive the world around them, who can utilize modern information and communication technologies, convert information into knowledge, and compete on a global level (Kesim, 2007:1). Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that just as in any other field, new approaches and theories regarding learning and communication emerge in the field of education.

Research Purpose

This study focuses on how flexible and distance learning environments may be designed from a socio-technical perspective with regard to contemporary technologies and new learning paradigms. This theoretical study with a socio-technical perspective seeks to answer the following research questions regarding flexible and distance learning environments:

  • 1.

    How can the pedagogical, technological, evaluation and administration processes be designed from a technical aspect?

  • 2.

    How can the pedagogical, technological, evaluation and administration processes be designed from a social aspect?

Literature Review

This section initially provides various distance education definitions from the available literature, and establishes a conceptual structure of the current field of distance education theory. This is followed by a detailed analysis of the Flexible Learning Approach and the Socio-Technical Theory based on the aforementioned conceptual structure.

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