Models Of Distance Education Practices
Instructional Designing for Open and Distance Learning: OUS Standards
AbdulMahmoud Idrees Ibrahim, Associate Professor
Department of English,
Faculty of Education,
Alza’eim Alazhari University,
Writing a material for open and distance learning (ODL) is not as writing a research paper or any academic texts. An effective approach for instructional design should be adopted to design and develop a distant learning product. The designed materials must undergo instructive conditions which have stylistic, structure, and academic characteristics to meet the objectives of this type of education.
There is an interchangeable relationship between instructional designing and the learner’s motivation. Therefore, a course book or a programme which we deliver to the open and distance learner requires a sophisticated instructional designing. This paper discusses how to instructional design for open and distance learning course materials according to Open University of Sudan (OUS) standards. It is our belief that it is not the media, but the method that plays the major role in effective instruction delivered at a distance.
Open and distance learning (ODL) materials are based on the philosophy of learning theories by creating striking situations that will facilitate supportive self learning. An open distance learning (ODL) text is designed and written in a modular-format to help home-based students to learn themselves effectively (Brahmawong 1998). Preparing Course materials for the open and distance learning undergoes very strict formation method in both style and form.
Learning materials are central issues in ODL systems. Poorly designed materials will result in high drop-out rates and a bad reputation for the institution. It is essential; therefore, that team working in ODL has a clear idea of what are the characteristics of good quality ODL materials. Moreover the role of every member in the team must be clear from the very beginning.
Many educators ask if distant students learn as much as students receiving traditional face-to-face instruction. Research comparing distance education to traditional face-to-face instruction indicates that teaching and studying at a distance can be as effective as traditional instruction, when the method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks, there is student-to-student interaction, and when there is timely teacher-to- student feedback (Moore & Thompson, 1990; Verduin & Clark, 1991).
Textbooks in Education
Textbooks as an educational means depend mainly on the written form which connected with vision; therefore, it must be well designed to draw the attention of the reader. The printed material is the foundation of distance education and the basis from which all other delivery systems have evolved. The first distance-delivered courses were offered by correspondence study, with print materials sent and returned to students by mail. While technological developments have added to the repertoire of tools available to the distance educator, print continues to be a significant component of all distance education programs.
The text book contains the fundamental ideas and concepts for a certain syllabus and moreover it presents the values and skills needed in an organized integration. Yet, it is not the sole means for the different educational situations, but it is one of the most effective tools in the educational process.
For the open and distance learner, textbook has a vital role because it facilitates the learning process; therefore, it must be done according to certain principles. Graphics, diagrams, pictures, and illustrations are necessary for explaining concepts and views. The development of the best quality of instructional text requires input from a number of contributors (Dekkers, 1994) such as author, referee, instructional designer, and graphic designer.
There are some setting makes the textbook a continual learning tool, such as:
· captivating style
· there must be examples
· has comfortable format
· well instructional design
· well designed (fonts, colors, size, etc.)
· good quality of production
Instructional design and Motivation
What about the instructional design process and the effect of instructional design strategies on learner motivation? As the scope of the literature on this subject confirms, motivation is a very transparent term that takes on various meanings depending on the context in which it is viewed. Some authors argue that motivation is principally a factor of self that is developed over years of influences from family, education, society, and general life experiences (Roblyer, 1999). Others, such as Keller and Burkman (1993), attribute learner motivation to the role courseware designers and instructors take part in the design, development, and delivery of instructional materials. The ability to affect learner motivation is particularly relevant in open and distance learning where the instructor is physically absent from the learner and therefore may have less influence on learner motivation.
Consequently, it is very important that distance educator, administrators, and those designing distance-learning products appreciate the effect of motivation to the continued involvement of their learners (Abdul-Rahman, 1994). Willis (1993) claims that for some students, distance learning represents not merely an acceptable replacement, but rather a desirable alternative to on-campus instruction. Reasons for desiring to be outside the educational mainstream might include negative past experiences with conventional education, preference for independent study, or attraction to a technological environment. Here the role of the instructional designer is curial to insert the instructor between lines to compensate his physical absence. He must instructional design the material in such way that motivates the open and distance learner to study alone.
To function effectively, students must quickly become comfortable with the nature of teaching and learning at a distance. Efforts should be made to adapt the delivery system to best motivate and meet the needs of the students, in terms of both content and preferred learning styles. Consider the following strategies for meeting students' needs:
Assist students in becoming both familiar and comfortable with the delivery technology and prepare them to resolve the technical problems that will arise. Focus on joint problem solving, not placing blame for the occasional technical difficulty.
Make students aware of and comfortable with new patterns of communication to be used in the course (Holmberg, 1985).
- Learn about students' backgrounds and experiences. Discussing the instructor's background and interests is equally important.
- Be sensitive to different communication styles and varied cultural backgrounds. Remember, for example, that students may have different language skills, and that humor is culturally specific and won't be perceived the same way by all.
- Remember that students must take an active role in the distance delivered course by independently taking responsibility for their learning.
- Be aware of students' needs in meeting standard university deadlines, despite the lag time often involved in rural mail delivery.
- Use Effective Teaching Skills
- For the most part, effective distance teaching requires the enhancement of existing skills, rather than developing new abilities. Pay special attention to the following:
- Realistically assess the amount of content that can be effectively delivered in the course. Because of the logistics involved, presenting content at a distance is usually more time consuming than presenting the same content in a traditional classroom.
- Be aware that student participants will have different learning styles. Some will learn easily in group settings, while others will excel when working independently.
- Diversify and pace course activities and avoid long lectures. Intersperse content presentations with discussions and student-centered exercises.
- Humanize the course by focusing on the students, not the delivery system.
- Consider using a print component to supplement non-print materials (Graham & Wedman, 1989).
- Use locally relevant case studies and examples as often as possible to assist students in understanding and applying course content. Typically, the earlier in the course this is done, the better.
- Be concise. Use short, cohesive statements and ask direct questions, realizing that technical linkages might increase the time it takes for students to respond.
- Develop strategies for student reinforcement, review, repetition, and remediation. Towards this end, one-on-one phone discussions and electronic mail communication can be especially effective.
- And finally...relax. Participants will quickly grow comfortable with the process of distance education and the natural rhythm of effective teaching will return.
Sudan Open University was established on April 14, 2002 by an act of the cabinet. OUS is the only national institution providing open and distance learning in Sudan. It has undertaken to visualize and design programs to meet the need of the society. The mission of OUS is commitment to carrying out the philosophy, principles and methods of open education and distance learning according to the latest cognitive and technological developments. It utilizes a mixture of various instructional media (printed, visual, audio, computerized and electronic) to support distance learners. OUS prepares an independent learner who graduates with the adequate knowledge and skills which enable him to continue learning depending on himself and encourage the spirit of innovation, efficiency, organization and ability to face challenges. It has taken the burden of the different community sectors which are socially, financially or geographically unable to get high education and improve their opportunities to join high education and succeed in it. The university has highly qualified academic, administrative and service staffs capable of achieving the University’s general goals.
OUS uses the term programme which is equivalent to faculty in traditional universities. It has the following programmes:
- Education (different specializations)
- Administration science
- Computer sciences
- Kindergarten and Preschool
- Rural Development
The University has a wide physical network of 23 regional academic centers, many local tutorial centers. OUS uses self-instructional print materials; radio and TV broadcasting and limited face-to-face tutorial sessions to discuss any complexities may the course have. Learners join theses centers to meet their tutors for discussion twice a week in the evenings. Attending these tuition sessions is optional. Like in any other Open University, printed material is the core of medium of instruction in OUS. Sudan Open University has adopted standards in the course design that are followed in developing courses.
Distance learning course
Creating a course in a program needs a team. This team includes course author/s, editor, style editor, instructional designer, graphic designer, illustrator and course coordinator. Two referees also validate the course book (Hassanain 2003).
Distance learning course book is organized as a number of linked but distinct units. A unit is written and designed in a specific method. Every unit is built and well planned separately, but it is integrated with the other units. It has been carefully laid out for learners to work on independently. Units may be divided into sections, which may take the form of a session. The basic characteristics of good modules are that these should be interactive, conversational, self-pacing and pedagogically sound (Parer 1992).
Open and distance learning texts aim to help readers to learn by themselves. The writer is mainly responsible to present the concept clearly. In the traditional situations, texts provide the educational material without taking into account the reader’s ability to learn by themselves. This is where the text of open and distance learning differs from that of the traditional one.
Titles of units and sub units are clearly highlighted so the learner knows all the time where he is and in what direction he is heading for. The size of units, section and lesson in an ODL text are consistent with the time. Each unit must contain feedback on the exercises allotted to the learner so that he can check the result of his work by himself. On the other hand, traditional texts tend to be too ‘academic’ in their form. The role of the instructional designer is to create a material full of keenness for learners and for learning. His role in open and distance learning is conveying interpersonal features to the learning process to enrich the print-based learning through a variety of practical and interactive exercises. When the instructional designer deals with any text he should bear in his mind the following tips:
- design materials in a way that supports learning
- Use the active voice (The active voice creates a different tone and makes writing livelier, more dynamic and more readable.)
- Create a personal tone without losing academic rigour, i.e. using a ‘tutor’s voice’ rather than a ‘lecturer’s voice’
- Make the materials conversational by asking questions and creating a sense of interaction with the distance learner.
- Use simple rather than complex sentences. Complex ideas can be expressed in simple sentences. Generally it is easier to read and understand short sentences that flow smoothly and develop logically.
- Gender-balanced and racially sensitive discourse should be considered.
The Unit Structure According To OUS Standards
The components of unit according to OUS standards as follow
- The contents
- The introduction-This contains the following subdivision:
- The main text:
- Contains the educational material with its various sections (subdivisions) and its relevant exercises, activities, self assessment questions, drawing diagrams, illustration, tables, lists, etc.
· Preview for the following unit
· Answer key
· Terms definition
· Appendices and tables
Writing the Introduction
Every introduction in any unit has a preface and objectives.
- overview (the preface)
The preface should contain the following expressions:
- starts with short welcoming expressions
- Point out to the place of the unit within the course in addition to the general description of the unit.
- Motivates the student and attract his attention- such as connecting the topic with the learner’s previous knowledge, his environment, culture or his needs.
- Indicates the scientific and practical importance of the course.
- Prepared him to audiovisual aids and the computer programmes which are relevant to the study.
- Alerts him to contribute in evaluating the unit.
- It should be comparatively short and clear.
Objectives are formed in an observable and measurable behavior. Even though this is a controversial issue, we adopt bloom’s taxonomy for our educational objectives which has three domains:
We do not deal with every domain separately because they are overlapping.
The main body of the unit
Traditional texts tend to be too ‘academic’ in their form. Therefore the textbook in ODL follows a certain method in designing to motivate the learner. The textbook is divided to learning units. The unit contains the main topic and the subtopics. The unit is noticeably divided to take the learner’s hand step by step. The size of units, section and lesson in an ODL text are consistent with the time. Every section may contain exercises, self assessment questions, and activities, which go in harmony with the objectives of the unit. Each unit must contain feedback on the exercises allotted to the learner so that he can check the result of his work by himself.
Writing the finishing parts
- the summary
The aim of this subdivision is to concentrate the main ideas and concepts that mentioned previously in the body of the unit-bearing in mind the following points:
- the summary must be not more than two pages,
- it must be linked with the objectives of the unit,
- it must not discuss new ideas,
- it must be written in hints and short phrases,
- it must be restricted to the main points that mentioned in the unit
It is appropriate in this respect to give a short preview of the coming unit, in order to prepare your student and make more connection among the units building a sense of continuity. This preview must not be more than 100 words.
- Answer key
In this part the student will find the answer and comment for the exercises of the unit to be referred by the learner.
There is an Arabic style for the Arabic sources, but we as English teachers and course developers prefer the APA style in our documentation.
Quality is enhanced as a result of the (necessarily) accurate process that is used to produce ODL courses. In face-to-face teaching, teachers prepare their own lessons. They have very limited time in which to do this and are restricted by their own experience and knowledge. The preparation of ODL courses tends to be a team activity, involving specialists in curricular, media, writing, instructional design, and so on. Most draft materials are reviewed by a panel of experts and some materials are tested before use. These processes tend to produce learning materials of a very high standard. These are then used within ODL systems where tutors are trained in ODL techniques and monitored and supported by experienced staff.
The University monitors the performance of the course materials. The learners and the tutors are requested to report the errors and difficulties in the course. The feedback given by the learners and the tutors are analyzed. This way quality of the courses is maintained in the OUS.
The University uses a style guide in publishing its materials. The guide includes lay out format, styles used in references, spelling abbreviations, punctuation’s, quotations and citations. A standard publication guide is also available to all writers/editors and instructional designers and type setters that states page size, layout, fronts, graphic, colour and other related matters for use in all OUS books. Programme members in the production team will ensure that these standards have been followed. Style is necessary to provide learners with a consistent frame of reference (Hartley 1985) as they interact with the learning materials.
Misanchuk (1994) suggests that distance educators write instructional materials with language more like that used for speaking than for writing journal articles or books. His guidelines for writing instructional materials include:
- Use short sentences.
- Avoid compound sentences.
- Avoid excess information in a sentence.
- Use the active voice.
- Use personal pronouns.
- Keep equivalent items parallel.
- List conditions separately.
- Avoid multiple negatives.
- Use point form.
- Use familiar examples.
- Write as you would speak.
- Avoid unnecessary and difficult words.
- Avoid jargon; use technical terms only when necessary.
- Put sentences and paragraphs into a logical sequence: first things that affect many, then things that affect few; first the general, then the specific; first permanent provisions, then temporary ones.
- Avoid cultural and gender stereotyping.
- Putting the foreign term and its Arabic equivalent.
The production stages of the educational material
When the previous processes are finished (corrections, amendments, instructional designing and editing, then the final version is sent to the graphic and printing department to be printed and finally produced. We can summarize the steps of this stage as follow:
· specifying the font size, spaces and margins
· primary printing then editing
· correction if any
· fixing the visual symbols in their appropriate places
· preparing the tables and diagrams
· checking the page numbering
· cover designing
· proof reading the final version before sending to the publication
· issuing ISBN from the national authority for publication
Writing is an art and writing for open and distance learning is even more difficult because you need to use certain styles and techniques that are so different from traditional writing. In designing and developing distance learning course materials we have to ensure that writers and instructional designers are aware of learning theories and techniques. In fact, without some sort of training they cannot develop instructional course materials for distance education. Developing and instructional designing a course material for ODL involves more research, commitment, planning and evaluation. Sudan Open University should give more emphasis on learning approach regarding its course materials development process.
Teaching and learning at a distance is demanding. However, learning will be more meaningful and deeper for distant students, if the students and their instructor share responsibility for developing learning goals and objectives; actively interacting with class members; promoting reflection on experience; relating new information to examples that make sense to learners; maintaining self-esteem; and evaluating what is being learned. This is the challenge and the opportunity provided by distance education.