Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Impact of Open Source

At times, it seems like comparing apples to oranges.  Other times they are right in line with one another.  The biggest commonality is the fact that they are both on line, they both use technology, there is learning involved, learning styles play an important role in student success and it would seem as if adult learners would be most successful  with the model.  We are talking about Distance Education vs. Open Courses.  When we define distance education as “institution based formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive communication systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors”, (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 32), we start seeing differences.   Although one could argue they are institution based, the open courses reviewed were not interactive nor was there a connection to the instructor or other learners.

If it seems an unfair comparison is being made of these two different learning mechanisms, you are probably right.  Distance education has emerged as a valid alternative to learners requiring a formal education; who have particular limitations preventing them from regularly scheduled participation in face to face programs.  On the other hand, open courses are meant to provide “access to knowledge for the global public, including underprivileged and isolated students   in developed and developing countries who are excluded from higher educational opportunities” (Morgan & Carey, 2009 pp. 3).  As such, these courses may not be as structured, from an instructional design perspective, as courses designed for distance learning with a particular audience in mind.  By its nature, self directed learners, defined as “individuals who take on the responsibility for their own learning process by diagnosing their personal learning needs, setting goals, identifying resources, implementing strategies and evaluating outcomes” (Conlan, Grabowski & Smith, pp. 10), would be ideal learners for this type of experience.

There should be no arguments that a design process, of which ADDIE seems to be most popular, should be followed in order to appropriately design instruction.  According to Morrison, Ross, Kalman & Kemp, 2011, such process should take into account: 

·         Who is the program developed for (learners and their characteristics)

·         What do we want the learner to learn (Learning objectives)

·         How is the subject best learned (methodology, learning theories, strategies)

·         How will the extent to which learning is achieved by determined (Evaluation Strategy)

Per Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, a successful learning solution should comprise a system made up of learners, content, methodology, materials and the environment.  Keeping these components balanced while maintaining interaction is essential for success.  In his video, Dr. Piskurich also explained the importance of appropriate planning throughout the process regardless of whether a distance learning, blended or face to face solution is to be developed.   Of course appropriate planning starts with a solid foundation built on distance education theories which emphasize independence and autonomy of the learner, industrialization of teaching and interaction and communication (Simonson, Schlosser & Hanson, 1999).    

Another factor that plays a major role in the success of an online learning course is the ability to maintain learner engagement.  Failure to accommodate the learning process to the targeted learners is one of the major pitfalls in online learning; leading to cognitive overload and student disengagement (Lim, 2004).  The instructor him/her self plays an important role in facilitating relevant discussions, facilitating online activities, answering questions, providing feedback, recommending resources, etc; all important elements of maintaining learning engagement. 

In summary, an appropriate distance learning solution will have the following major qualities:

·         Built with the learner in mind
            ·          Follows appropriate design process built on solid learning theory
            ·         Appropriately balances learners, content, methodology, materials and environment
            ·         Maintains interaction
            ·         Integrates technology in order to increase student interaction and collaboration
            ·         Maintains learner engagement
            ·         Relies on the instructor for facilitation of discussions, feedback, answering questions, etc

Keeping the above in mind, here are a few thoughts after reviewing the Yale and Harvard open course sites.    We need to go back to the apples to oranges comparison.  These sites do a great job at sharing knowledge based on courses that were designed for a face to face university audience.  As such, they were not specifically designed for the online audience that reviews the solution as an open course.  They are recorded lectures and in some cases, additional materials like a syllabus, course notes and exams may be provided.  Having said that, if we looked at it from a distance learning design perspective, they fail in the following:

             ·         There is no interaction built into the course
            ·         There is no instructor to provide support or feedback
            ·         The course was created for a totally different type audience
            ·         There are no strategies to maintain the student engaged
            ·         Technology use is limited to video
            ·         There is no mechanism to evaluate student progress

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that these courses appear to be carefully preplanned for distance learning or that textbook recommendations were followed or activities implemented to maximize learning.  None the less; that does not constitute a failure of the open course sites or of the open course strategy.  Open courses remain a viable resource for those who do not have educational systems available to them.  In fact, open course models are emerging and being applied in different contexts; including disciplines where global perspectives are important, in applied professional programs and as resources for distance or face to face programs (Morgan & Carey, 2009). 


Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects. coe. uga. edu/epltt.

Laureate Education Inc. (2012) (Producer).  Planning and designing Online Courses (Video). Dr. George Piskurich and Jacqueline Chauser

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends, 48(4), 16-23.

Morgan, T., & Carey, S. (2009). From open content to open course models: increasing access and enabling global participation in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(5).

Simonson, M., Schlosser, C., & Hanson, D. (1999). Theory and distance education: A new discussion. American Journal of Distance Education, 13(1), 60-75.

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