The ‘Open Mode’ – A Step Toward Completely Online

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

Recently I have arrived at the opinion that developing a viable distance learning offering is the way to go for higher education (HE). Much of the e-learning I’ve been involved in has concentrated on developing blended learning where there was previously just face-to-face. This is largely like banging your head against a brick wall. This policy is often seen as a safer, less ambitious step along the learning technologies route.


It’s wrong because most of the time the educators and the students don’t really want to use technology. They’ll do a bit for the administration, but for learning, no way. It’s a face-to-face course. Why tamper with it. I am of the opinion that this is misguided, but it’s not a battle worth fighting (for now). Fighting this resentment is unnecessary.

The most important point is that the participants have signed up for a face-to-face experience. Some might not mind adding a bit of technology, but it shouldn’t take over. Shoe-horning e-learning into an already designed course is like swimming upstream with half the people not knowing how to swim. These metaphors aren’t great, but the sense is right.

Pushing to develop a number of quality distance learning offerings is, I think, the way forward. Certainly, for any educational institution, this is a way of separating from the competition. I don’t think there’s enough market research in this area, but I am convinced there are more and more people out there who can’t attend face-to-face but still want to study. With distance learning, the learning is only delivered online. Therefore, the students will engage. They have no choice. But negative feelings towards this mode of learning is largely eradicated past the the first few weeks.

For this to work in HE, you need entire MAs offered online, not just one or two modules. This way the market you want can be tapped into. It’s pointless having the odd module online. If a student can attend one module face-to-face, the chances are he/she can, and will want to, attend the others face-to-face.

The main problem we face with promoting distance learning is convincing academics to teach in this way. Unfortunately, I fear this problem is underestimated. There’s also the issue of whether to run it in parallel with the face-to-face alternatives. What about the institution’s capacity for managing both? It’s a bold move — one that is hard to take.

I’m pleased and excited that the Institute of Education (my place of work) is pushing the distance learning agenda and working towards increasing what we offer at a distance — we’re using the term “Open Mode” (which I like). It’s the first step on an important journey in an uncertain time for HE.

5 Responses

  1. Tom, this is a good read with a compelling message. I like the concept of “open mode”! It captures the idea of PLE and learning as an open rather than closed process — open always being the more sustainable and, thus, efficient and effective method. “Mode” also is a great choice, giving learning and education in general a dynamic rather than static, active rather than passive, process rather than content orientation. Learning is not a classroom or lecture hall or place but an internal and social process that is a way (tao in Chinese) or mode. Its domain is the universe, everything, everyone — not just a classroom or a teacher in a specific place and time. Thanks! -Jim

  2. […] post which caught my eye is The ‘Open Mode’ – A Step Toward Completely Online by Tom Prescott (it is interesting to note that even in the days of Twitter;s ascendency blog posts […]

  3. I get the frustration that comes from trying to “inject” ICT into an existing model and seeing participants do the bare minimum engagement, preferring to stick with what’s familiar. Tranformation – not transaction – is definitely the way to go.

    The problem with your position, however, is that it is still based on a provider-control model that is supply-driven:

    “…the students will engage. They have no choice…”

    Maybe the issue is that the proposition begins with an existing supply model “Distance Education”…rather than visioning a new truly blended model where the learner is at the centre and the media used (online, content, collaboration, face-to-face, personal, group etc) comes from the demands of the learners.

    More choice…not less…is the answer, along with really good pedagogy that helps solve problems for learners rather than creating different limitations.

    Instead of “If you build it they will come”…we should be thinking “Build what will make them want to come”…

  4. Thanks for this Andrew. The statement “…the students will engage. They have no choice…” doesn’t sound great on its own. What I’m getting at is this:

    Much of the distance learning impetus comes from a chasing of new markets. I think this new market is one where people simply can’t attend a particular institution at a particular place and time. When such a student embarks on a distance learning course, they may have misgivings about the mode as a viable space for teaching and learning. They may also have anxieties having not learnt in this way before. Such dispositions are overcome quickly because there is no alternative and once they engage in the learning, as long it’s well designed, they soon realise that the mode really doesn’t matter.

    The thrust of my post is about pursuing an agenda where we push the development of distance learning in HE. I comment on this in Jim’s above posting so I won’t repeat it here.

    The truly blended vision that you describe is a utopian ideal which I desire as much as you. My point here is that we won’t get there in one giant step. A small step along the right path would be what my original post was about.

    Thanks again for commenting.

  5. Hi

    Great information in this post and I think the main problem we face with promoting distance learning is convincing academics to teach in this way. Unfortunately, I fear this problem is underestimated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: