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Selection and Use of Media for Open and Distance Learning

Adrian Kirkwood

Context:
Different educational media allow different types and amounts of interaction with the student. The author of this article provides criteria for promoting learner control of the interaction.

Source:
Kirkwood, A. 1994. "Selection and Use of Media for Open and Distance Learning." In F. Lockwood, ed., Materials Production in Open and Distance Learning. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, pp. 64–65, 66–67, 69–70, 71.

Copyright:
Reprinted with permission from A. Kirkwood, "Selection and Use of Media for Open and Distance Learning," 1994, copyright 1994, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd., London. This permission is for nonexclusive English-language rights only, for this edition only. Reproduction of this material is confined to the purpose for which this permission is hereby given; and for use on a noncommercial basis by handicapped persons and the blind.

Learner Control

Open or distance learning is more likely to be effective if individual learners can exert control over the media being used in order to interact with the educational content of the material. However, the extent to which learners can control and interact with media technologies varies in a number of ways: the ease and flexibility of use, the level of interactivity and the extent to which dialogue is made possible. Factors such as these may have a bearing on the selection of media suitable for a particular purpose or group of learners.

Some media technologies are easier to use than others, i.e. they are easily portable, require only familiar skills to operate, etc. Text materials and audiocassettes can be used in many more locations than interactive video. They also tend to be more 'user-friendly' than most computer-based media.

Media-based materials also vary in the extent to which they allow learners to interact intellectually with the content. For example, the audience for radio programmes have no control over when the transmissions take place and cannot stop and review any sections they find unclear or wish to consider further. Learning is likely to be more effective if there are permanent materials with which learners can interact (books, cassettes, CBL on disc, etc.) rather than just ephemeral events like lectures and broadcasts. This can have implications for the design of learning materials. For example, video or audio material that learners will use from cassette need not resemble a broadcast programme; it can be structured in a format that encourages interaction and flexibility of use.

It is often claimed that computers offer greater potential for learner control and interaction than other media. In principle this may be true, but much depends upon the nature of the interaction that is facilitated. Most computer programs invite learners to respond to questions or to undertake activities and, on the basis of the responses made, the program can provide feedback and diagnose problems or misconceptions. However, the quality of the interactivity can be very limited because the questions posed and the forms of response that can be made are often teacher centred rather than being adaptable and learner centred (Laurillard, 1987).

Most media are restricted in the extent to which they allow learners to engage in some form of dialogue. Printed text materials, broadcasts, audio and video-cassettes all provide one-way communication, although open or distance teaching or training materials using these media often attempt to simulate dialogue and engage learners directly (see, for example, Chapter 8 by Fred Lockwood).

Until quite recently only the telephone enabled dialogue to take place in distance learning. However, recent developments in telecommunications and computer networking have enabled communication between learners and teachers to take place by a variety of means, for example audio- and teleconferencing, electronic mail and computer conferencing. In particular, computer-mediated communication not only facilitates two-way correspondence, but it can also support group and many-to-many communications; dispersed learners and teachers can communicate in ways that are more open-ended and less didactic than is usually the case in open and distance education. This can have implications for the design of teaching materials, which may no longer need to be centrally prepared and controlled.


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