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Innovation in Open and Distance Learning Successful


									Innovation in Open and Distance Learning : Successful Development of
                  On line and Web-Based Learning
Ed by Fred Lockwood Anne Gooley, Kogan Page, Paper back. 2001, PP. 227 Price 19.99

Innovation in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is not a matter of choice but a
necessity. Though it is a necessity in the classroom teaching – learning too, in ODL
innovation is a fast and a continuous process. Very little has changed in the teaching –
learning process of the modern classroom over the last two centuries, whereas within a
span of thirty years (starting with 1970s) we come across at last five generations of
distance teaching. Stages of innovation actually characterise the generations, mainly
focusing on the different combinations of media use. One can easily recognise the
overlapping among the five generations when one goes through the relevant literature
(eg. J.Tylor 2000). However, the rationale behind the classifications is also valid, in o far
as it highlights the distinct stages of innovations.

The book under review is important in that it covers a wide range of issues as well as
experiences pertaining to innovations in OOL. Although the sub-little refers to online
and web-based learning only, the chapters included are not all about online or web-based.
However, the main little holds good, though “innovation” could be read more justifiably
as “innovations”. The book has 19 chapters in all. Except chapter 15 by S. Panda and T.
Jena which is more of an academic note than a chapter remotely focusing on the theme of
the book, others do address some of the crucial issues related to either “innovations” or
“online” and web-based learning, or both. Chapters 3 and 11 discuss the campus based
learning; chapter 10 talks about life-long learning for rural and remote people; chapters
12 and 17 deal with familiar themes like cost, finances, student retention etc. Barring
these deviations, other chapters fit into the theme of the book quite smoothly. However,
Chapters 2, 4,5, 11 and 16 are the most vital that energies the theme of the book.

That the book is primarily concerned with the experiences of Australia and the United
Kingdom is evident. One chapter each on India, Hong Kong and Newsealand would not
alter the balance when 16 out of 19 chapters focus on Australia and the UK. But that
does not in any way reduce the value of the issues raised in the book.

Fred Lock wood gives an accurate summary of almost every chapter, but chooses only a
few to comment on extensively. The reasons are obvious. Unless the chapters contribute
to the discussion in some way, they need not be commented on (e.g. Chapters 14,15). But
then, why to include them? Lock wood also establishes the thematic link among the
various chapters quite well and raises some issues crucial to distance learning, media,
costs, organizational culture etc. and concludes that with greater access to the Internet
and to world wide communication, “the potential of the knowledge media to create
learning environments, and talented teachers, the next few years will see many more
innovations in DL” (P.13)
Chapter 2 by B. Robinson actually gives the key note to the book. Her comprehensive
treatment of the four major issues related to innovation in ODL, based on research and
experience focuses on: resources availability, organisational aspects, human resource
capacity and use of technology. Each of the four issues is examined in detail. Robinson
focuses sufficiently on the need for staff development, adoption patterns and
organisational dimension with regard to innovation. Some of her axiomatic statements
like ‘Any innovation disturbs existing systems’ (p-25)’, larger organisations are generally
more innovative than smaller ones’ (lbid), etc., need to be understood in the contextual
sense. In fact, some of the larger organisations resist change and innovations, as they
operate along Fordist principles of centralised, bureaucratic, and more of the same mass
production priorities. The present hype about the ‘post-fordist’ approach that promises
innovation, customised services and decentralised administration or management is
actually an antidote to large sized lethargies. However, Robinson’s three conclusions are
worthy of consideration : i) innovators must give more attention to organisational
culture, quality of planning and value systems; ii) problem solving to be seen as an
integral component of the process of innovation, and iii) innovation in education and
ODL is a complex process (P.26). All the three suggest that without appropriate and
adequate training and research, innovation in ODL will be a far cry.

E.P. Errington’s emphasis on the need to consider ‘teacher beliefs‘ (Chapter 3) in the
process of innovation is important, because “Teachers particularly need to know that
they are supported from the top, that there is a collective institutional vision with clear
leadership and that the institution is committed to flexible learning “ (P.29). Although
innovations in ODL are usually signalled from the top, without the acceptance by and
involvement of the teachers, no innovation is possible. Of course, teachers should be of
such quality and calibre to appreciate and understand the value of innovation and its
implications in a given context.

Chapper 4 by McLachlan et al finds a special place in the book, as it highlights the
possible innovative, flexible learning in the ‘traditional’, face to face setting as well,
provided the teachers know how to design and implement relevant programmes. Bruce
King describes in chapter 5 a low cost online project Unisnet that is scaleable to all staff,
students and courses, and that requires very little technical skill to implement (P.51) In
chapter 6, Tyler et al give an account of the OU Business Schools’ online project Lotus
Learning Space, and make the point that “it is necessary to break out of text heavy
courses geared to individualist approaches to learning” (P.73). In chapter 7, L. Hewson
and C. Hughes look at the various possible pedagogic devices for effective onlilne
teaching-learning. A. Inglis considers the factors in selecting an integrated electronic
learning environment (Chapter 8). Ron Oliver et al look at the high cost, effectiveness,
design and delivery, and the benefits (often dubious) of online courses (Chapter 9). The
recommend sharing of resources, and conclude that the use of tool boxes is a powerful
strategy for creating scaleable and sustainable learning resources for ODL (P.109). In
chapter 10, A. Gooley et al consider the online learning in rural and remote communities.
They observe:
    “Effective and meaningful learning can only occur if both communities and learning providers are
    confident that they have access to the necessary technological infrastructure at reasonable cost”.
Chapter 11 by Stephen Brown is very important, as it highlights the possibilities of
bringing in innovations in the campus based universities. The focus of chapter 12 is quite
different from that of the previous chapters, as it looks at the ‘self-financing’ aspect of
OU Hong Kong and its implications for retaining students. Certainly the innovation here
is not of developing “online and web-based learning”. Chapter 13 describes how, “by
creating settings where learners communicate with peers” (P.156) they can learn
meaningfully without having to communicate directly with teachers. Chapters 14 and 15
discuss ‘mentoring’ in ODL, but the setting is not online. Chapter 16 fits well into the
theme, as it focuses on ‘online assessment’. But chapter 17 is about cost-effective
videos. Similarly chapter 18 also talks about effective reading of pictorial materials.
Chapter 19, which is the last chapter, gives an account of staff development programmes
through three virtual seminars conducted during 1997 and 1999.

Inclusion of quite a few chapters such as Chapters 12, 14, 15 17, and 18 can be justified
only by indirectly linking them with “innovation”. Perhaps the authors could have made
some efforts to highlight the aspects of innovation of the programme/activities they
chose to discuss. Such an effort would have yielded some useful observations and
insights, even if they do not relate to online and web-based learning.

Although there are deviations in some of the chapters from the main theme, the range and
variety of issues covered in the book are extremely interesting. It is possible to continue
the discussion by further analysing and classifying the themes and the sub themes. For
example, innovations at the macro policy level may be separated from the micro level
issues that concern design and delivery of specific courses. Similarly, more regional
perspectives could have been brought in, to moderate the predominantly western
experiences. Such attempt would give a more global picture of innovations in ODL,
which now has become a global theme. Having said this, I would consider the present
book an important contribution to theme and recommend it to practitioners of ODL
working in different situations and at different levels.

                                                                                P.R. Ramanujam
                                                                                 Director STRIDE
                                                                        IGNOU, New Delhi-110068

   Taylor, Jim (1999) “Distance Education: The Fifth Generation” 19th ICDE World Conference on Open
        Learning and Distance Education, Vienna, June 20-24, 1999

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