Reshaping Distance Education: Returning the Student to Centre Stage

Reshaping Distance Education: Returning the Student to Centre Stage

Barrie Todhunter (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4205-8.ch022
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Abstract

Teachers in higher education are confronted with a confusing and fragmented range of learning and teaching models for learners who are not traditional on-campus students. This chapter examines the development of guidelines to assist in the reshaping of a coursework Master’s program in project management offered at a regional university. Using a coursework program as a case study, a holistic exploration has been carried out of the critical issues associated with teaching and learning at a distance, with a focus on the three layers of the institutional environment, the pedagogical frameworks and the learning setting of the actual students. The research methodology and design are discussed and the outcomes are presented to provide guidance for administrators, teachers and learners. The major outcome of this study is a holistic framework of Distance Education Learning Principles for Higher Education (DELPHE) as a meaningful tool for reshaping postgraduate distance education learning and teaching models.
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Research Problem And Question

Drivers for this study included a transition over recent years by the University from on-campus to distance education, increasing utilisation of educational technologies, changes to the University setting, the rapid growth in enrolments and the lack of an underlying philosophy regarding postgraduate studies for mature-aged students (Brookfield, 1995, p. 7, cited in Nunan, 2005; Cheetham & Chivers, 2000; Postle, Richardson, & Sturman, 2003; Project Management Institute, 2002). The research problem arose from a need to define an effective learning environment for the provision of distance education for project managers at postgraduate level, and the overarching research question that emerged was:

What are the guiding principles for the development of a conceptual framework for postgraduate distance education in project management?

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Context Of The Study

The Australian higher education sector experienced considerable changes in the post-Dawkins era in the 1980s, seeking to provide increased access for less-privileged students (Postle, Richardson, & Sturman, 2003), and distance education was adopted on a much broader scale. No clear pedagogical framework emerged to guide teaching and learning in distance education, especially for postgraduate coursework programs for professional education (Todhunter, 2003a, 2003b).

Flexibility has emerged as a strong theme in higher education as the focus has changed from teacher-centred delivery to one of student-centred learning (Taylor, 2001). Distance education is well placed to offer this flexibility and continues to evolve rapidly as technology provides opportunities for improved access, communication and quality of content (Garrison, 1997). However, there is a need to “develop a more integrated, coherent, and sophisticated program of research on distance learning that is based on theory” (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999, p. 27).

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