The Open University in Great Britain, established in 1972, also has access as its core mission. While earlier efforts at distance education “Correspondence education, broadcast radio lectures, and ETV all sought to recreate traditional classroom arrangements while simultaneously eliminating restrictions on numbers of students” there were significant limitations (Prewitt, 1998, p. 188). This model, unfortunately still ever-present in today’s eLearning courses, has proved less effective at educating students. The Open University sought a system that instead facilitated networked learning amongst students, with “students as nodes in a network offering individualized instruction and assessment” (Prewitt, 1998, p. 189). It is possible that this may have been the beginning of Academic Learning Networks, Virtual Learning Commons and the like.
The stage was set for an explosion in distance learning, and the broadcast nature of the technology available was going to quickly change, though reliance on broadcast methodology for teaching – mimicking the lecture-based teaching format – would be far harder to transform. “The computer was the missing piece of the educational puzzle that would facilitate the free flow of information between teacher and learner as well as introduce the previously absent interpersonal aspects of communication” (Casey, 2008, p. 47).
The use of lecture-style broadcasting is still ubiquitous in online courses, despite the widespread availability of affordable and simple WYSIWYG tools (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, pronounced wi-zee-wig). The instructional emphasis of what is now commonly referred to as “sage on the stage” persists, despite its increasing dissonance from other learning experiences in the modern, networked world.
Check out this video below on the Open University of UK, originally founded on a mission of access, which online learning greatly enables. Please note that the closed captions are fairly good on this. Also note that if you’re interested more in OER – Open Educational Resources – we’ll be delving into that in the chapter on instructional design and development.