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Migration from traditional paper-based distance learning by correspondence, to a new teaching and learning online or blended environment should be undertaken within the context of the institutional environment as a whole, starting from policies and strategies and taking cognisance of many interlinked elements. These contextual elements include programme, curriculum and learning design, academic staff development, the target learner demographics and their access to the course, the context and physical environment within which they are studying, the available and appropriate information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure (both within and outside the institutional environment), and with reference to the existing platforms and modus operandi already deployed at the University. Marquard’s (2013) Educational Technology Stack depicts layers providing us with a useful initial framework to create a conducive environment for such an initiative. Marquard, S. (2013) DHET New Universities Ed Tech presentation, Learning Technologies Working Group.
The mode of education provision is typically viewed on a continuum from purely face-to-face tuition through to education purely at a distance, the latter traditionally conceptualised as correspondence tuition with no face-to-face interaction between teachers and learners. However, there is now more resource-based (independent) learning in f2f programmes, more f2f interaction in distance. Prediction that, especially with growing use of educational technology there will be rapid movement to the centre.
An expanded definition of e-learning includes the use of all digital resources, systems, devices/computers, and electronic communication in the support of education. e.g. a course may supported digitally by the use of CDs, but it is not necessarily an online course.
A second continuum could represent another dimension by plotting the extent of supporting ICTs – ranging from fully offline to fully online. Note the inclusion of ‘digitally supported’ in the ICT dimension. Furthermore, the commonly used terms of ‘web-supported’ and ‘web dependent’ are deemed to be too specific and have given way to ‘Internet-Supported’ and Internet-Dependent’. In internet-supported programmes, participation online is an option or alternative for learners. In internet-dependent programmes, participation via the internet is a requirement, and could include online interaction, communication and access to course materials via the web. In fully online programmes, there is no physical face-to-face component, although there could be a virtual face-to-face component. In our African context, it is pertinent to also consider digital forms of support that do not require internet access. The digital forms of support for learning could be offline via a CD/DVD, and a further detail could be expressed by clarifying exactly which elements of the ICT dimension may be on- or offline. Of course, within a particular course, learning could be supported both online and digitally offline at various stages. The continued evolution of e-learning is contributing to the blurring of the distinction between face-to-face and distance education provision. It is useful to conceptualise the two continua in relation to each other as horizontal and vertical axes.
Rather than view these two continua separately, it is useful to conceptualise them in relation to each other as horizontal and vertical axes. Situating various courses or programmes on the resulting grid allows one to describe both the extent of spatial or geographic distribution and the ICT supported dimensions of a course or programme. The circles positioned on the grid represent examples based on courses or programmes at actual higher education institutions. This would enable for an HEI to position a particular course or programme (such as B) on the grid in terms of where they are situated right now, and then determine where the institution would like them to move to over a period of time. This could assist in identifying what changes would be required in order to move or reposition the course in terms of this grid, and the other influencing factors or aspects of the course would need to be taken into account.
Young and Chamberlin (2006) describe a Blended Learning Continuum in terms of two discrete tracks of using supporting or supplementing ICTs, differentiating the strategies that apply to the deployment of an Independent Learning Environment from that which focuses on an Interactive Learning Environment. The exposition of these strategies would need to be underpinned by a particular educational approach that in turn would be informed by a third human dimension which needs to be considered across all forms of provision. This is the extent to which the approach is fit for purpose in terms of the target audience, the purpose and level of the course being offered, as well as the extent to which an equivalent learning experience is offered across different contexts of learning and practice. Transactional distance is determined by the inter-related function of 3 sets of variables: instructional dialogue, programme structure, learner autonomy.
Human elements / dimension: The flexibility of the temporal dimension in technology-supported teaching and learning provides a great pedagogical strength. Interaction can either be synchronous (at the same time) or asynchronous (with delays). The asynchronous nature of many of the communication and collaboration technologies currently available allows learners to reflect and contribute more meaningfully in an online dialogue, thus developing and improving their critical thinking skills. In addition to being determined by ‘fit for purpose’, the appropriate use and extent of synchronous or asynchronous ICTs could be determined by the important influencing factor of class or group size.
Synchronous flow: If they ask questions, they reasonably expect other people to be working in the same area and so the likelihood of getting their questions answered by peers is good. Students also expect that aspects of the course, such as availability of material and assessments, have inflexible deadlines. Students must do the coursework at the pace set by the course designers, not at their own pace. Asynchronous flow: Students can work at their own pace. If students ask questions, there’s an excellent chance that nobody else is working on the same area; there is less likelihood of someone answering the question in a timely manner. The lack of deadlines means students can always finish the course “later”. Procrastination seeming to be a universal human tendency when there are no deadlines, many people do not finish at all. https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/wiki/CourseFlow Semi-synchronous flow: for example, a new unit on each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the course. Students can work on the units any time after their release. F After the event, the instructors may post the video for students to watch at their own pace. Live events focus students around particular topics. Fixed deadlines such as assignment hand-ins, assessments.
Probably the most important and perhaps the most difficult transition for both the instructor and learner is that of adjusting to the online communication medium, be it used synchronously or asynchronously. This includes concepts and practise surrounding teaching and learning interaction, engagement, and facilitation. In the first instance, interactions would typically be: tutor/instructor to learner, and learner to learner. However, the online environment offers greater potential for an expanded environment as shown in Anderson’s (2008) multidimensional model depicting a collaborative, community of enquiry and learning. The role and responsibilities of the lecturer and learner are significantly changed in the online environment as described by many research studies including Yang and Cornelious (2005) and Oliver (1999). These include the teacher as facilitator rather than the source of all knowledge, increased responsibility regarding acquiring skills in order to use educational technology appropriately, and the manner in which the lecturer and learners are afforded additional opportunities to communicate and collaborate on a more level footing i.e. the lecturers’ new role as ‘the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage’ as described by Wilson (2005). This leads to an important issue concerning the level of mediation possible or planned for the provision of a particular course or programme. The deployment environment would be guided by an upfront decision concerning the level of mediation that is to be employed in the online course by the academic. This decision could be influenced by a number of factors including many of the aspects listed previously. In particular, large student numbers would indicate the employment of tutors to manage small virtual group online interaction if a high level of support were required by the student demographics and the pedagogical approach.
Laurillard (2002) has consistent arguments by educational theorists that deep, meaningful learning requires active student engagement including interactions between students and content, students and other students, students and faculty and, when appropriate, students and workplaces and/or communities. The extent to which this community driven model would be desirable in an online course would be determined by the pedagogical approach to the course, and with reference to the aspects shown in the table. Made more difficult by large class size
One particular factor emerges as being particularly important in defining what the possibilities are in how a course is delivered. This is believed to be the group or class size i.e. the enrolment for a particular instance of delivering a particular course. The size of the cohort enrolled for a course or programme would appear to be a major determinant of the nature and extent of the interactions possible between lecturer-learner and learner-learner, the need for the deployment of tutors, the level of mediation employed by the lecturer and tutors, the level of support for the learners, the nature of the assessment, and could in fact be the determinant for the pedagogical approach. It would therefore be opportune to depict class size when locating a course or programme on the grid in order to indicate the extent to which the underlying aspects identified and discussed would need to be considered. In addition, if the plan is to migrate a course to a different position on the grid over time, an indication of this aspect would provide a cautionary flag to prompt examination of the practical aspects that would need to be considered to effect such a migration. The class size could be depicted on the same grid by simply varying the relative size of the circles denoting a particular course. For example, it can be easily seen that the group for course C, is larger than the group for course D, which is turn is larger than E, etc.
Given the use of continua and the attempt at a graphical representation as suitable vehicles to frame the dimensions of education provision, it is clear that there is no single blend for delivery mode, but rather an infinite number of ways that one can deploy a course or programme. The development of a grid is an attempt to prompt careful consideration of the relevant aspects that affect education provision in the blended and online mode. The deployment of supporting ICTs opens up many possibilities for a more interactive engagement but whether the affordances of ICT are used in this way must be a conscious design decision: at a basic level, ICT can be used simply to transmit content more efficiently. However, in institutions that consciously seek to use supporting ICTs to enhance their teaching and learning, the role of the lecturer is changing to that of facilitator, learning environment designer, co-learner, and may also include content curation. The role of the learner in such institutions and programmes is also changing, moving towards more self-directed independent study, and greater collaboration and engagement both with peers inside the institution and others outside the walls of the classroom or lecture hall. Plomp, 1999:26; Berge, 2000; Kahn 2012; Richardson u.d., c.2013 The core assumptions of DE (access, independence, economics of scale) need to be re-examined in the context of online learning theory and practice (collaboration, community, quality assurance)
Preserve the integrity of the teaching and learning process and environment by: using ICT to support (not drive) teaching and learning Employ flexibility to ensure the ICT support is appropriate for: the topic, level of study, student context and the expertise of the teachers / tutors / learners
Exploring Modes of Education Provision in the African Context
Exploring Online & Blended
Modes of Distance Education
Provision in the African context
Online and eLearning Conference
Johannesburg, South Africa
30-31 July 2014
Traditional School Connected School Networked School
• Schools perceived as physical
sites of learning
• Face-to-face instruction
regarded as the ‘norm’ - and
distance education accepted as
• Schools as autonomous units,
catering for all the needs of
• Schools remain as physical
sites of learning, with
emerging models of
connectivity between and
among school sites.
• e-enabled opportunities for
learning embraced in
• Schools as collaborating units,
negotiating areas of
• Networks of schools and
learners – accepted models of
differentiation between places
to learn and sources of
learning and instruction.
• Schools as nodes on a network
– integrally connected as
consumers and contributors.
• Ubiquitous presence: complete
integration of physical/virtual
nature of school.
The Nature of a School
• Technology appropriated in an
• Schools/teachers are the ones
in charge of use.
• Online environments used for
resource location – the ‘online
• Technology appropriated to
create new learning and
• Student access and use a
• Online learning environments
appropriated for use as:
o Intranets in schools:
student: resources /support
& parent: portal.
o Extranets (e.g. LMS)
• Student appropriation of
technology – input as to what,
where, when, and how it is it
• Online environments initiated
and/or managed by learners
utilizing existing and emerging
The Nature of a School ---> Technology
Adapted from Wenmoth (2010)
Layer Examples & Notes
Institutional Strategy Size and shape influenced by online / blended / face-to-face / distance delivery mix,
market opportunities and constraints
Programme Design Articulation between courses, fostering graduate attributes.
Ensure congruence and alignment and identify where Ed Tech can support this layer.
Curriculum Design Course design enabled by appropriate learning technologies
Learning Design Integrating educational technology effectively in lesson planning and teaching and
learning interactions e.g. ALL course materials could be online, but assignments,
assessment & activities can be on- or off-line
Academic Staff Prof Dev Seminars, workshops, conferences, show & tell, mentoring and training
Student Digital Literacies Computer and information literacy
Student & Academic
Helpdesks, support documentation, application training; Guides; just-in-time support;
planned learner/staff support - e.g. short 1-2 hr sessions;
Software Applications Institutional LMS, multimedia content, classroom response systems, simulations,
interactive tutorials, communication tools, social media
Access Device Smartphone, tablets, laptops, PCs NB: If and how to provide? Personal and/or lab usage
Network Wired & wireless networks; Refer to Institutional ICT plan: Infrastructure & access
Physical Lecture theatres, seminar rooms, labs, social learning spaces, libraries;
Refer to Institutional plan - ensure integration of all known Ed Tech needs.
Educational Technology Stack (adapted from Marquard, S. 2013)
Continuum of educational provision
From purely face-to-face (contact) tuition through to
education solely at a distance.
As for face-to-face education, there are many variations
of distance provision.
DE delivery using the WWW
Types of e-learning using the World Wide Web (WWW) are
commonly referred to as:
web-supported, web-dependent, and fully online.
These can also be represented using a continuum:
An expanded definition of e-learning includes the use of
ALL digital resources, systems, hardware devices, and
electronic communication in the support of education
Moving to a second dimension
No digital support Digitally Supported Internet-supported Internet-dependent Fully online
Face to face (F2F) Mixed Mode Distance Education
On Campus Off campus
Spatial or geographic distribution of teachers and learners
Extent of ICT support
Campus-based Hybrid / Blended Remote
Mode of ProvisionOff-line--><-----------Online----------->
Characterising Modes of Delivery
Structural Aspects Teaching and Learning
Elements to be aligned
(Young & Chamberlin 2006)
Course Title /
sub-discipline & level
Objectives Independent Learning
(low level of mediation)
(high level of mediation)
Target Audience Course materials
Location of Target Audience Learning Support
Expected level of learning
Level of interaction /
Balance of synchronous vs
Level of temporal
Size of Annual Enrolments Assessment & more …
• course structure
• instructional dialogue
• learner autonomy
Making the most of the changed environment
– Spatial separation (geographically distributed)
– Determining extent of digital ICT support
– Temporal (asynchronous & synchronous)
• Human Dimension
– Establish online/offline presence – teachers & learners
– Promote engagement & interaction
– Define appropriate level of mediation
– Class size - small virtual/physical groups
• Synchronous flow: students do all of their work at the same time
as everybody else.
• Asynchronous flow: students do everything at their own pace and
have no deadlines to consider.
• *Semi-synchronous flow: students do some parts of the course at
their own pace and do other parts of the course on a fixed
– Instructors release course materials on a fixed schedule, student can work on it
– Live events, such as live Q&A sessions with the instructors, happen at a fixed date
and time. Students can also watch archived versions.
– Assessments are due by a fixed deadline.
*Google CourseBuilder- https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/wiki/CourseFlow
Anderson, T. (2008:61)
The Theory and Practice of Online Learning
Athabasca University Press. (2nd Ed.)
A Model of Online Learning
Third dimension: level of interaction
• meaningful learning requires active student[learner]
engagement including interactions between students
and content, students and other students, students
and faculty and, when appropriate, students and
workplaces and/or communities
Issue of scalability
• Blended mode
– An infinite number of ways to blend
• Influencing factors
– Learner demographics
– Class size
– Pedagogical approach
– Spatial separation (geographic)
– Temporal (asynchronous & semi/synchronous)
– Determining extent of digital support (ICTs)
– Human / Interaction
The way in which we use digital technology models particular
values for our students and places particular kinds of demands
both on them and on their teachers.
Therefore, we need to make conscious choices to use suitable
digital technologies in appropriate ways taking cognisance of
both our learning purposes and the technology profile of our
target learners and teachers.
• Embrace the opportunities afforded by ICTs while preserving pedagogical integrity
• Promote the opening of education using appropriate supporting ICTs
• Use ICTs to support (not drive) the teaching and learning process
• Be adaptive to change and mindful of context when utilising supporting ICTs
• Build capacity to promote sustainability in changing learning environments
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License.