The evolution of open learning


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I have just read an interesting paper on open learning. The author argues that there are  five stages associated with open learning, covering the period from correspondence learning in the 19th century to the present era of interactive online learning. 



The first stage is correspondence learning before the 1960s. The learning content was sent by mail and students sent their feedback and assignments back by mail. Over time printed content was supplemented by radio, audio and broadcasts.



The second stage was distance learning through multiple technologies, television was of particular note, as well as audio and video cassettes. The Open University UK was established in 1969, followed by other open universities around the world.



The third stage was distance learning with increasing use of computers and networks, due to the emergence of the Internet. This allowed for more communication between students and tutors. Computer-mediated communication enabled students to collaborate and facilitated more active learning.



The fourth stage was online learning through high-bandwidth computer technologies and the introduction of synchronous communication, via video conferences.  In addition Learning Management Systems emerged to store course materials, provide a range of mechanisms for students to communicate and collaborate, and facilities to upload assignments.


The final stage is interactive online learning Web 2.0, mobile and synchronous technologies. Of particular note here was the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses in 2008. In addition, light-weight mobile devices with big screens became available at an affordable price.  Also social media served as additional tools to enrich the learning experience and facilitate social learning.


There are a variety of definitions of open learning. Seven semantic components are associated with the concept of open learning:

  • Open entry/access (to learning opportunities)
  • Being free from/minimising barriers (to learning)
  • Flexible study methods, pace and assessment
  • Wide range of teaching and learning strategies/technologies
  • Learner-centredness
  • Recognition of prior learning
  • Online learning/courses

Open learning is not only an alternative means of education but also an economic approach to delivering education to a large number of targeted learners for economic development or educational enhancement of the underprivileged.






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