Flexible Delivery of Continuing Professional Education:
Models, Issues and Trends
Dr Roy Lundin, Queensland University of Technology
The rapid growth in flexible delivery of open learning
and teaching through the use of interactive communication technologies
poses significant questions relating to resource allocations, different
learning environments, more demanding time constraints and new modes and
techniques of communication. Current practice regarding continuing professional
development programs indicates that little has been done to provide an
appropriate conceptualisation of flexible delivery or open learning, particularly
in the distance mode, reflecting sound educational principles and contemporary
design elements to maximise learning outcomes using interactive communications
technologies. Evidence collected to date indicates that design and delivery
of professional development programs, as well as ways of meeting adult
learning principles, are different when new interactive communications
technologies are applied. This paper will address the issues inherent in
this problem, provide examples of ways in which new models are addressing
the issues as well as present what appear to be trends in such delivery.
The 20th Century is closing with a build-up of pressures on every organisation
whether it be industry or service oriented. These pressures may be listed
All professionals face challenges with regard to continuing professional
development, 'lifelong learning', which is crucial for the survival of
competitive organisations today. Management, above all, needs to ensure
that leadership is displayed in terms of organisational development - that
is, change which is concerned with changing mindsets, the development of
a learning culture and the continuous renewal of skills. Indeed, continuous
professional development, for managers, will be the competitive factor
determining success or failure in the global marketplace.
After decades of drifting, managers have recognised their tough task
of leading controlling and winning. With global competition there are many
more threats. Only the fittest will survive. (Woodcock & Francis, 1989)
This is particularly the case in the Pacific Rim area, including Asia,
as well as the European Community, where countries are taking advantage
of each others' learnings at an accelerated pace. Traditionally, industrial
organisations have operated like machines according to well established
mechanistic laws and principles. However, this is rapidly giving way to
the organismic concept of operations as indicated in the following table:
Table 1: Machine versus Organism
|Aspects that have dominated||Now to include or replace|
|The 'machine' ethic with concrete structures, strategies and a systems approach||The 'organic' ethic with pliable structures, strategies to match values and 'soft' systems which include the people element.|
|Managers think, workers do||Managers as facilitators and workers empowered to think, plan and initiate change.|
|Military model of obedience||Co-operative model of commitment|
|Content and outcomes||The 'how' processes overall use of tools and techniques|
|Taught solutions||Seeking out problems and issues, and working out solutions which harmonise|
|'Truth' based on organisational 'laws' and proven principles||Interpreting 'reality' to embrace realities of others.|
(Source: Pascale, 1990, cited in Whiteley, 1995.)
The new order of things makes it imperative that the concept of 'the
learning organisation' be embraced if companies are to survive.
All of these pressures, of course, require continuous updating of the whole workforce not just professionals, including managers. Therefore, these pressures are as relevant to education and training providers as they are to commercial enterprises of all sizes. For example, due to deregulation of education and training, the growth in numbers of non-government private training providers is increasing exponentially in many countries. The challenge for all providers, whether they be internal to the organisation or external providers tendering for contracts, can be summed up as follows:
1.2 Wide Range of Professional Development Initiatives
Education and training needs of the professions are being highlighted
due to several local, national and global pressures, and this applies to
every country in the world. For example, new industrial relations legislation
comprising enterprise bargaining, new forms of training agendas and competencies,
new forms of flexible delivery infrastuctures using information and communication
technologies as well as decreasing budgets for government services are
putting pressure on all industries and organisations to develop appropriate
training programs for their staff and members. The real need is for such
training to be delivered to the place of work so that productivity is not
seriously interrupted and cost benefits can be realised.
In North America (eg. The National Technological University for the continuing education of engineers, the Health Information Network, Mind Extension University, now Jones Education Company College Connection, and Saskatchewan Teacher Education Network), Europe (e.g., EuroPACE 2000, EuroSTEP, EUROTECNET,) and in various parts of Asia (eg Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, the Indira Gandhi Open University) and Australia (the Open Learning Australia consortium) , flexible distributed learning options, including open/distance methods and the use of communications and information technology, have become the norm for many universities and tertiary colleges, including professional development programs. (Lundin, 1992; Commission of the European Communities, 1991a and b; Daniel, 1996).
Systems of alternative delivery are also operating for professional
groups such as engineers, accountants, nurses, teachers (Andrews, 1992;
Lundin and others, 1991), public servants, police and the military (Lundin
and Donker, 1992).
In the private sector, several companies (eg. mining, banks, airlines,
telemmunications, insurance, hotel chains) are putting in place system-wide
telecommunications facilities for education and training.
1.3 Characteristics and principles of open learning and flexible
The term 'open' in reference to education and training has become widely
used and has led to some confusion about its meaning. Usually, distance
learning and the use of technologies for flexible delivery are considered
to be important components of an open learning approach. The description
of 'open learning' provided in Queensland Access to Higher Education:
On the Road to Open Learning (Queensland Board of Advanced Education,
1989) provides a useful introductory description:
Open learning is a philosophy and system whereby all options for post-compulsory education are kept open. This approach is characterised by flexibility in terms of entry, program components, modes of study and points of exit. Learners are encouraged to negotiate learning arrangements to meet their special needs.
The Australian Senate Employment, Education and Training References
Committee in its first volume of a report on the inquiry into open learning
in Australia (1994) also make a good attempt to clarify the term:
The term 'open learning' means different things to different people and it is not always possible to be sure that those who use the term are talking about the same aspect of education when they employ it. For the Committee, the term 'open' learning implies a freedom and diversity of learning options for the student. Open learning as a concept has been in existence for many years, as the long record of distance education in Queensland attests. But open learning is not simply distance education under another name. Open learning needs to be flexible, student centred and to offer opportunities and choices that structured and conventional delivery of courses may not presently allow at least in higher education - whether on campus or off campus.
The Committee found Professor Richard Johnson's description useful:
Open learning is an approach rather than a system or technique; it is based on the needs of individual learners, not the interests of the teacher or the institution; it gives students as much control as possible over what and when and where and how they learn; it commonly uses the delivery methods of distance education and the facilities of educational technology; it changes the role of teacher from a source of knowledge to a manager of learning and a facilitator (Johnson, 1990, p 4).
All forms of flexible delivery for education and training should remain
valid in an open learning approach. That is, the so-called 'traditional'
face-to-face option where teachers and learners are in the same location,
must continue to be available, particularly when there is a need for some
form of special high level of interaction or use of rare or expensive resources.
However, various forms of 'face-to-face' human interaction can now be effectively
replicated through emerging communications and information technologies.
Indeed, every possible subject area and all forms of skills have been successfully
taught at a distance through interactive technologies. Further, there are
increasing examples in the literature of new, creative techniques and strategies
for teaching and learning becoming available through these technologies
which are not possible through a face-to-face approach.
Open learning, however, also implies flexibility in policies and delivery
'on-campus' as well as 'off-campus', and therefore the term is seen as
a broad approach to increasing access and choice in learning. There is
still some debate as to the applicability of an open learning approach
in schools, but for university, college and industry training as well as
all types of professional development, this approach facilitates flexible
delivery to suit the work patterns and professional needs of adult learners.
'Open access' appears to deal more with the ways in which various delivery
options can ensure equity of access by students for learning programs.
In this sense, it is more akin to distance education than is open learning.
In any event, distance learning and the use of communications and information
technologies are seen as important elements of open learning by increasing
equity through access and choice so that all learners regardless of location
or personal circumstances have the opportunity to undertake study across
the full possible range of programs.
The Australian Technical and Further Education (TAFE) National Flexible
Delivery Working Party (1992: 47-48) has also provided a clear definition
and set of principles regarding 'flexible delivery'. With very few editorial
changes to incorporate a range of training and development situations,
these can be taken as the basis for any approach to open learning and flexible
Flexible delivery is an approach to vocational education and training
which allows for the adoption of a range of learning strategies in a variety
of learning environments to cater for differences in learning styles, learning
interests and needs, and variations in learning opportunities.
Flexible delivery is characterised by:
Flexible delivery finds expression in many ways including:
The development of the National Framework is based on the following
The European Union countries also have their various definitions of
flexible delivery, flexible learning and distance learning:
Table 2: Definitions of flexible and distance learning in EU countries
(EIOL 5, 1991, p. 38)
|Italy||Flexible and distance learning, normally provided at a distance with tutorial support.|
|Germany||Decentralised training for specific qualifications by means of multimedia tools certified by concerned authorities: permanent training and distance teaching are often used in comparable contexts.|
|United Kingdom||Openness of training activities in terms of; (a) accessibility (time and place); (b) learner-centred pedagogy; and (c) learner's control of content. Distance teaching and new technology-based training can be a component of open learning but do not coincide with it.|
|Portugal||Promotes training of adults encouraging "self-learning".|
|Denmark||Capacity of students to influence and fine-tune the contents. Training is based on student groups communicating through computer conferencing.|
|Belgium||Promotes distance teaching through periodic exchange between the students and the training centre|
|France||Introduction of multimedia tools in training courses. More recently flexibility, individualisation of the learning solution and integration with classroom based learning have been introduced.|
|Spain||Promotes training based on distance teaching. More recently flexibility and modularity have been underlined.|
With regard to adult professionals there are probably four major implications
of adopting an open learning and flexible delivery approach:
Several issues arise in the consideration of these implications. For
example, 'guaranteed' access also implies that the appropriate technology
is conveniently available. Furthermore, access by itself does not necessarily
lead to participation. While technology can deliver some aspects of all
training and development, face-to-face interaction may still be needed
for other aspects, particularly of an inter-personal nature - as much education
The main issue, however, is that 'flexible delivery' implies a one-way
direction from provider to learner. The interactive technologies, on the
other hand, empower professionals to send as well as receive, and theregby
initiate professional development networking that goes beyond the unidimentional
implication of 'delivery'.
2. Types of Professional Development
The following types of professional development may all benefit from
the use of flexible, interactive communications technologies:
3. Technology for flexible delivery
3. 1 Types of technology
Some common concepts and terminology are required to ensure a common
understanding of the discussion in this paper. Because this is an emerging
field, a variety of terminology is evolving for the same kinds of technology
and practices. The following definitions and descriptions are based on
examples from the literature and international practice.
Each type of technology or medium has specific attributes which give
it its power or effectiveness for certain purposes. Knowledge of these
attributes will enable teachers/trainers and course providers to design
learning activities with strategies that make the most of these unique
These attributes are set out to some extent in various publications
which explain the advantages and disadvantages of the various technologies,
but some brief examples here will clarify the concept at this point. Both
film and video possess the attributes of colour and motion, but video has
the unique attibute of being able to create a variety of visual effects.
If an educational requirement would be live audiovisual interaction plus
colour and motion, as for example in assessing competencies in a workplace
from a distance, then videoconferencing would be required. Interestingly,
for example, in 1984 Parker reported on research which revealed that only
eight percent of educational programs required motion. The decision was
made at that time by the University of Wisconsin - Extension, therefore,
to opt for a slow scan (freeze frame) television service to their 200 study
centres where audioteleconferencing services already existed. Many years
later, however, it is interesting to note that videoconferencing systems
have developed to the point where these can be provided at a reasonable
cost to provide a much fuller service.
Another interesting example is that described by Fenwick (1985) of Lincoln
Agricultural College in New Zealand. He introduced to his audioconferences
an element of competition by having the group of agriculture students at
each local study centre a type of grass and, in turn, describe the grass
to the others. The centre that could identify the grass first got points,
and so on. This is an example of exploiting the attribute of the lack of
visual clues for educational purposes.
The term 'technology' has several uses in everyday language. It is frequently
used to include the hardware that we design, construct and use - the artefacts
of our society. It is also used to describe a class of processes that are
algorithmic in nature - techniques for achieving certain outcomes. Frequently,
these processes are used to produce artefacts/hardware. A third use is
concerned with forms of organisation - networks, business and manufacturing
structures that exist to support the production of artefacts and the use
of algorithmic processes. These forms of organisation (global corporations,
assembly lines, quality circles, etc) only exist because of the artefacts
and processes. The three 'forms' of technology are symbiotic in nature,
each feeding on and supporting the others.
There are two main categories of communications and information technology:
'Distributive' implies one way delivery with no immediate interaction
between teacher/presenter and learners or among learners. What interaction
that may occur is limited and subject to considerable delay at best (eg
postal service). 'Interactive' refers to delivery modes which provide for
immediate interaction among all participants in various ways, although
with computer-mediated communication (CMC) this is usually asynchronous
and therefore slightly delayed, but this becomes an advantage of this mode.
With IMM, 'interactive' refers to the extent to which the user can engage
with the courseware, and the nature of that engagement. These types of
technology are classified in this manner because of the implications of
each category for design, production, delivery and costs of programs, particularly
in terms of pedagogy and support services. The two categories, however,
are not mutually exclusive in that various media may be combined, and the
same transmission conduits can be used for both general educational and
non-educational purposes, as well as for distributive and interactive programs.
A new classification may need to be developed because of the convergence
of the communication and information technologies.
3.2 Distributive modes
Correspondence education has been found to be a second-best method of teaching for several reasons:
Broadcast radio and television have been used for the delivery
of both formal and informal education and training for many years around
the world. In addition to broadcast, there is narrowcast radio or television
which is so called because the transmission is aimed at a specific group
of people rather than to the public, in general. There is also the enhancement
of providing both radio and television programs simultaneously, presumably
to enhance the audio, which is referred to as simulcasting.
3.3 Interactive modes
'Teleconferencing' is a generic term which encompasses all forms
of interactive communication using electronic telecommunications between
individuals and groups. In the early days of the technology this term included
some reference to participants being at a distance from each other, and
to a great extent this is still the case in most teleconferences, but geographic
distance is no longer a main element or requirement for taking advantage
Following are brief descriptions of six types of teleconferencing:
Audioconferencing uses the telephone system for voice-only links
between individuals and groups. There are various terms used for this type
of teleconferencing such as a 'conference call' and, in the Australian
media, a 'telephone hook-up'. The key items of equipment are loudspeaker
telephones for hands-free and group participation at any given site and
electronic bridges which connect any number of telephone lines together
for simultaneous interaction.
Audiographics teleconferencing also uses the telephone system
or a very narrow band of telecommunications to transmit graphics and other
visual images such as scanned still pictures. It usually combines the graphics
transmissions with an audioconference and may even use the same audio bridges
for multipoint links. Devices used include facsimiles, writing tablets
or telewriters, electronic blackboards and whiteboards, freeze-frame or
slow scan video, optical scanners and remote-controlled slide projectors.
Recently these functions have been combined into computer-based communication
systems, also referred to as 'telematics'.
Computer-text conferencing has been traditionally called 'computer
conferencing', but it is usually restricted to text only and in this way
it differs from computer-based audiographics and computer-based videoconferencing
systems. It uses specialised software which provides several more functions
and controls than electronic mail or bulletin boards, but it uses the same
technology: that is, microcomputers and modems communicating using a local
area network, specialised telecommunications or through the telephone system
using a computer to manage the communication. Although some computer-text
conferencing software permits synchronous (real time 'chat mode') communication,
the difference between this and other forms of teleconferencing is that
it is mainly asynchronous and this attribute gives it its power, especially
for international conferencing and communication among busy professionals.
This form of communication may also be included in computer-mediated communication
(CMC) as indicated below.
Interactive satellite television involves one-way satellite delivery
of live video with two-way interaction via the telephone system and it
has been used widely overseas and in Australia for curriculum delivery
and professional development. In fact, aside from print and face-to-face,
interactive satellite is the single most used technology for delivery of
all levels of education and training in North America and Europe. Some
people refer to this as talk-back television rather than a form of teleconferencing.
Analogue videoconferencing is full motion interactive visual
and audio communication using television systems such as optical fibre
or cable, satellite, microwave, infrared or VHF radio signals to transmit
the signals. This is being used between schools in Victoria, the ACT and
Queensland at present and commercial television example are common. Bridging
more than two sites is usually difficult without very sophisticated switching
equipment. The advantage of this form is that high quality video is transmitted.
'Compressed' videoconferencing has evolved as a result of three
major developments in recent years. Firstly, the development of codecs
(coder-decoders) enable the video signals to be compressed. A codec is
computer-like in that it digitises the video input, compresses it and then
transmits it via the ISDN network, a special service of the telecommunication
carriers using the telephone network. The process allows the video signal
to be transmitted along the equivalent of one or two telephone lines (64
kilobits), whereas the normal analogue video which we see at home requires
bandwidth equivalent to 1200 telephone lines. Better quality can be achieved
by using greater bandwidth which is equivalent to seven telephone lines
(384 kilobits) or about 35 telephone lines (2 megabit connections). This
compression saves cost and permits considerable flexibility with regard
to the place and time for teleconferencing because it is much like a dial-up
telephone call. Secondly, videoconferencing bridges now permit several
sites to be linked simultaneously, like audioconferences. Finally, it is
possible to link all forms of video devices (cameras, vcr, graphics scanners,
etc) and computers through the technology.
It is also possible for a two-way or multi-point compressed videoconference
to be transmitted via satellite to many receiving sites which can, in turn,
interact with the videoconference presenters through the telephone system.
3.4 Computer-meditated communication (CMC)
There are at least five different types of service relevant to education and training, generally, that can be made available through such a system:
Computer-text conferencing and audiographics forms of CMC have been
discussed briefly above as forms of teleconferencing.
For organisational communications, email and bulletin boards are effective
and inexpensive means of communications. Also, the asynchronous nature
of the communication means that busy people can dial-up when it suits them
to receive/send messages. In schools, for example, this is particularly
important to overcome the timetable and timing problems inherent in synchronous
teleconferencing systems. For busy professionals this would appear to be
an ideal form of communication for both formal and informal networking.
3.5 Interactive Multimedia (IMM)
IMM courseware incorporates computer-based delivery of information in
a range of forms which may include: text, graphic, sound, video (still
or full motion), hence the 'multimedia' descriptor. It also usually provides
the user with a range of ways of interacting with the material it contains
and provides responses to user input in a manner appropriate to that input
and the objectives of the material, hence 'interactive'.
3.6 Technology convergence
This section of the paper has outlined a range of flexible delivery
technologies, each of which has specific hardware requirements. The evidence
available suggests a convergence of technologies that should be a factor
in planning for educational applications of technology. Increasingly, information
is being stored and transmitted in digital form. At the same time, there
is a convergence of computing and communications technologies, leading
to computer based devices that function as desktop (or portable) computers,
but with a multimedia capability that can carry out the functions of a
telephone, fax machine, audio system and TV. The 'infotainment' industry
is moving towards home video selectable on demand, with a range of other
functions that could also be used to support educational applications.
In the US, desktop videoconferencing using the Internet is already being
trialed in schools, the higher education sector and industry. Interactive
multimedia is now being marketed internationally using communications networks
instead of or in addition to physical media such as CD-ROMs.
Much of the above development is not available at a cost that present
education and training institutions can meet, if at all, but it indicates
a direction to be monitored and included in planning when the cost-effective
equation is suitable for trainers to act on.
Regardless of the sophistication of the technology, the quality of courseware
and/or the quality of the educational experiences supported should be the
major determinant for the implementation of any technology.
4. Effectiveness of the technology delivery modes
Much evidence is beginning to be accumulated to demonstrate the effectiveness
of the various technology delivery options. For example, in North America
and Europe, as well as in various parts of Asia, several other areas of
the world and increasingly in Australia, flexible distributed learning
options, including open distance education methods and the use of communications
and information technology, are becoming common place for many universities,
tertiary colleges and schools rather than a specialised or add-on activity.
For schools, it has become a way of providing access and equity to the
full range of subject options not able to be offered to students in any
other way and for providing access for staff to professional development
At the Australian national conference on distance education in schools
held in Cairns, June-July 1993, Professor Ian Lowe (1993) went so far as
to say that distance education techniques and technologies were now beginning
to lead practice in mainstream teaching and learning. Previously it has
been seen as second best or inferior to on-campus, face-to-face teaching.
There is a small but growing body of evidence to support three conclusions
with regard to the effectiveness of flexible delivery using technology:
There are many findings coming to light from research and evaluation of projects which show that the use of flexible delivery has several positive effects on teaching and learning. For example:
Some of the effectiveness of the use of technologies in both distance
and internal programs comes from the enhanced quality of the teaching and
learning experiences possible. For example, some of the options found in
a range of projects which can be employed for learning activities include:
These practices indicate that there is little reason to continue the
distinction between internal and external/distance learning either for
statistics or for funding purposes because the range of mixed media and
mixed mode options coupled with their proven effectiveness means that all
learners should be able to access the same activities given effective program
design, a proper delivery infrastructure and local support.
5. The concept of a model and a conceptual framework for professional
The concept of a model has been informed by the work of Weil & Joyce
(1978). A model of teaching and learning consists of a set of guidelines
for planning, implementing and evaluating educational activities and environments
appropriate for achieving certain kinds of goals. It includes a theory
that justifies it, a description of what it should be used for, an explanation
of why it is effective and practical guidelines for implementation. The
model should be accompanied by empirical evidence that it works. Different
models are required for different educational orientations.
The main concern about developing effective models is that they should
primarily be about improving the quality of professional adult learning.
Indeed, the use of technologies is no longer limited to distance education
but are being used in a wide variety of ways to share teaching and learning
(Smith and Kelly, 1989), educational expertise, resources and research
in all educational settings. These options go beyond the traditional notion
of distance education (Barker, Frisbie and Patrick, 1989; Daniel, 1996;
Garrison, 1987; Lundin and others, 1991; Lundin, Evans and Sandery, 1994).
The conceptual framework for the discussion of models, therefore, draws upon four main areas of educational theory:
5.1 Approaches to teaching and learning.
Biggs (1990) identifies three models for conceiving the teaching and
learning process with implications for tertiary institutions: (i) Quantitative,
(ii) Institutional, and (iii) Qualitative. These three models are viewed
hierarchically. Model (i) assumes that the teacher or trainer possesses
the relevant knowledge and the ability to impart it in an expository manner.
Model (ii) assumes the teacher or trainer possesses the knowledge and a
repertoire of teaching skills and strategies. Model (iii) assumes the teacher
can operate beyond level (i) and (ii), in line with constructivist approaches,
by providing space for the learners to enhance personal meaning based on
their learning experiences.
5.2 Reflective practice in professional development.
The second theoretical area concerns the reflective approach to professional
practice which is currently supported by many practitioners because it
can be applied to a variety of teaching/learning situations. Recent research
into, and ways of thinking about, learning indicate that improvement in
educational practice is most likely to occur through a reflective approach
to professional staff development rather than through the adoption of specific
methods or techniques of teaching (Smyth, 1987). There is a trend from
the development of tertiary teachers and trainers as managers or technicians,
able to efficiently transmit, control and evaluate the acquisition of knowledge,
skills and attitudes associated with a predefined set of goals and activities
(Tabachnich & Zeichner, 1991), to developing professional teachers
who are reflectively able to engage in ongoing inquiry-oriented learning
and who are academically and emotionally sensitive to the needs of learners
(Grimmett & Erickson, 1988). Zeichner & Liston (1990), for example,
identify four varieties of reflective practice based on their analysis
of traditions of reform during this century: (i) An academic version (e.g.,
Shulman, 1987); (ii) A social efficiency version (e.g., Ross & Kyle,
1987); (iii) A developmentalist version (e.g., Duckworth, 1987); and (iv)
a social reconstructionist version (e.g., Beyer, 1988; Maher & Rathbone,
1986). This fourth version stresses reflection about the social and political
context of education and the assessment of classroom actions for their
ability to contribute towards greater equity, social justice and humane
conditions in education and society.
5.3 Conversational models of teaching and learning using interactive
Thirdly, Holmberg (1981) describes teaching and learning at a distance as 'guided didactic conversation'. The differences between methodologies used in distance education, in terms of the process of 'conversation', however, comes through the use of delayed, asynchronous conversation (eg. correspondence materials) over extended periods of time as opposed to the use of synchronous (real time), interactive communications technologies where conversation is immediate. This 'conversational' aspect of learning and teaching design has been developed by Romiszowski (1992a and b) who has outlined five general theoretical areas for models of design which can exploit interactive technologies:
He proposes a synergistic model where the design and development of
the interactive multimedia components of the model occur alongside the
design and development of supporting discussion (ie., 'conversational')
environments. The models proposed in this study will be based on variations
of this synergistic model. They will involve the implementation of a multi-pathway
approach (Lundin, 1991; Gerber & Lundin, 1992; Mason, 1994; Burke,
Lundin & Daunt, 1997) to develop surface-level interactions and deep-level
interactions (Marton & Saljo, 1976) using networked communications
technologies, especially in relation to teleconferencing.
5.4 Adult learning principles in transactional distance education.
Finally, although these theories can apply across the whole spectrum
of education and training, adults undertaking professional development
programs through technologies/flexible delivery must address specific needs.
It is, therefore, necessary to apply adult learning principles to
the design, production and delivery of such programs (Moore, 1992). This
aspect along with the interactive attributes of emerging technologies have
led to what Moore (1992) calls the 'transactional theory of distance education'
in which these new media affect the structure of course design, the dialogue
between learner and instructor and the autonomy of the distant learner.
The above theoretical concepts of qualitative learning, reflective practice,
conversational designs and adult learning principles provide an appropriate
conceptual framework for analysing current practice and formulating more
appropriate models to enhance learning through the use of interactive technologies
across a range of professions.
7. Participation and Interaction
Most discussion and papers about educational teleconferencing tend to
focus on the nature of the technologies. For example, with regard to videoconferencing
the newest codec, the relative merits of various bandwidths, or the potential
of optical fibre versus satellites seem to be of special interes. What
is really important, however, in terms of education is an understanding
of the special attributes of the various forms of communications and information
technologies and how, through creative educational designs, these attributes
can be exploited within sound pedagogical (or andragogical) models which
take into account the four elements discussed above. The key to these models
is the way in which participation and interaction are incorporated to enhance
Participation and interaction are important elements of the teaching-learning
process. Technologies, if exploited properly, can enhance both of these
elements and thereby improve the quality of education - both internally
and at a distance. These need to be built into the design of educational
programs in such a way that learning is assured:
Without taking away from the important role played by the teacher, it
is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important
in determining what is learned than what the teacher does. (Cevero, 1988:
Participation can stimulate local initiatives - eg with regard to professional
In a Queensland project called 'TeleSLAQ', the following developments
It is well recognised that interaction is a special form of participation
which enhances the quality of education at all levels and in all modes.
Distance education has been limited in this regard. In the past, students
enrolled in the external mode suffered disadvantages because:
(a) there was a complete dependence on written correspondence lessons
by post, which resulted in a time lag of three to six weeks turn-around
time for feedback on assignment work, or for requests for books from a
library; (ie if the posted items didn't get bogged completely!);
(b) there was little or no opportunity for live interaction between
students and lecturers, except for individual telephone calls often at
student expense, (and this was impossible during the day in any case),
costly vacation schools in some cases, or expensive lecturers' visits to
(c) there was little or no opportunity for students to benefit educationally from live group interaction with their colleagues enrolled in the same subject.
Telecommunications can change all that. Interaction can be built into
all forms of communications - print, audio, audiographic, video and computers.
There are, however, 'levels' of interaction.
'reaction' as a form of interaction with pre-pared audio (radio) and
video (television) broadcast. This is a voluntary, usually passive and,
therefore, and ineffective and often unproductive kind of interaction.
'parallel participation' in which the program shows activities and asks
listeners or viewers to carry out the same activities. For example, 'Play
School' and yoga lessons on television involve in this way.
'limited interaction' in which the participant has choices regarding
the exploration of a fixed data base. For example, viewdata (eg Viatel)
is claimed to be interactive in this way, as are most data bases and programmed
'responses' requested as a form of interaction built into the program
software. For example, a 30 minute audio or video-tape can be produced
in such a way as to keep a student involved for up to a week or two of
study by requestion certain activities and investigations to be carried
out, then returning to the tape, and so on.
'stimulated' interaction in which the program acts as a catalyst for
local, real, live interaction among participants.
'live' transactional interaction at a distance - ie 'real' interaction
through which participants can be comments and questions contribute to
the creation of the unique content or data base which becomes the product
of the 'program' or event. This interaction can be both synchronous, eg
audio and video Teleconferencing, or asynchronous as in forms of computer
Live interaction at a distance is a unique attribute of teleconferencing
and it is the power of this attribute that can be exploited by careful
design of programs and use of creative strategies.
Broadcast TV - eg China, OLA (Australia)
Cth Bank, QANTAS, Australian Defence
In terms of educational design there are two levels which need to be
considered. The first is a structural level - to create a total context
for teleconferencing so that it is part of an educational program. The
second is the internal design of the actual teleconference segments - to
use educational activities which depend on participation and interaction.
The following three cases demonstrate these two levels effectively.
8.1 The TeleSLAQ Model
In 1983 the School Library Association of Queensland (SLAQ) initiated
a series of teleconferences for the professional development of its members.
The first programs were by audioteleconference but since 1984 there have
also been a number of video conference programs - i.e. one way video with
With regard to the structural level a five part model
was developed from the beginning to keep teleconferencing within a context:
(a) pre-conference materials are sent to registered participants
(b) a pre-conference group discussion is held at each centre for one hour prior to the telephone link-up
(c) a teleconference link-up for one hour
(d) a post-conference group discussion for one hour
(e) distribution of the print materials and an audiotape of the one
hour link-up to those people unable, usually because of distance, to attend
one of the centres.
This was the basic design of each of the programs with some minor variations
within them to take account of different content.
The TeleSLAQ Model has been used successfully with several professional
groups including teachers, principals, nurses and accountants. Other examples
of the use of Interactive Satellite Television include the NTU for Engineers
and programs for Rural Health Workers. The European Program for Advanced
Continuing Education is another example of the use of ITV.
An extension of this model has now become possible with the use of the
Internet. Pre-teleconference and post teleconference discussion can now
be held online both synchronously (Internet Relay Chat)
Each participant who registered received two or three weeks prior to
the program a 'welcome' letter and a booklet of 40 to 100 pages. The booklets
were designed for three purposes.
Before the program date the participants were asked to read the booklet
and other related materials, and to carry out some small local investigation
such as asking teachers' and principals' opinions on a topic, observing
students in their use of the library or resources, and to bring along good,
practical ideas which could be shared with colleagues at other centres.
The booklets were illustrated with photographs of the resource people
and of activities of groups taken during previous programs.
A pre-conference audiotape or videotape was produced for each program,
but sent only to the local convenors. These tapes ranged from 20 to 30
minutes each and contained a statement of key points from each of the resource
panel with an introduction by the Chairperson/Producer.
These tapes served as advance organisers both in terms of the stimulus
of the lecture-type content and as a way of introducing the voices of the
Generally an attempt was made to establish the expectation that the
program would involve a three hour commitment: an hour pre-conference discussion,
a one hour link-up and an hour post-conference discussion. This was based
on a consideration of just how much time people could be expected to devote
to this kind of exercise on a Sunday morning. The first of these hours
was to be spent more or less as follows:
It was found that the one our was often inadequate especially where
there was a large group. Some groups for example met one evening in the
week prior to the program.
It was found that the one hour was often inadequate especially where
there was a large group. Some groups for example met one evening in the
week prior to the program.
Each link-up was planned for one hour, but even during the first program
it became evident that the on-line time was elastic and could be shortened
or lengthened to suit the occasion. Some programs ran slightly over the
The final section of the three-hour block was included in an attempt
to ensure as much as possible that there would be follow-up by the participants,
ie to encourage real outcomes.
Audiotape or Videotape Service
This extension of the project to people living 50 kilometres or more
from a centre proved very popular.
For each program a technician from the College's Audiovisual Services
set up and monitored the tape recording of both group sessions.
The internal designs of the various TeleSLAQ programs
have depended on the objectives, resource people and the content. To some
people the work 'teleconference' conjures up associations relating to conferences
where speeches are made to a passive audience who, if there is time, may
be permitted a question or two at the end. this type of activity may, of
course, be conducted via telephone, but it does not make the best use of
the interactive aspect. Other terms are being used in teleconferencing:
for example 'teletutorial' (usually only for point-to-point, tutor and
student), for 'telelecture' and 'telemeetings'. Conceivably the prefix
'tele' could be added to a whole range of educational activities.
As this project progressed it became apparent that there were a number
of strategies for teaching and learning as well as for meetings which would
exploit interaction, and that these could be built into teleconferences.
In addition to question and answer there could be debates, interviews,
reporting and role playing, for example.
The other educational aspect of the design of TeleSLAQ is that it was
based on sound adult education principles. It was assumed, therefore, that
By way of example for exploiting videoconferencing a segment from a
TeleSLAQ II program, 'Storytelling across the curriculum', is useful. Essentially,
this segment involved an adaptation by the presenter, Dr Barbara Poston-Anderson,
of the tale of the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin'. four of the eight sites linked
up were allocated a sector of the city of Hamelin, a number of characters
to portray and suggestions for their part of the script.
Another example of a professional development program using telecommunications
was the 11 week Early Literacy Inservice Course (ELIC) for primary teachers
in Queensland, Australia. Although this course did not involve videoconferencing
in its strictest sense, it is an excellent example of using the appropriate
media in a cost-beneficial way.
With regard to the structural level, the ELIC course provided,
first of all, a printed workbook for each of the 11 units. These workbooks
contained all the directions for processes and content. The combination
of using the print, audio teleconferencing, satellite video and local group
discussion is set out below:
15 minutes: each group meets at the local site to share, read and discuss coursebook materials
15 minutes: each group has an audioconference with its tutor
45 minutes: satellite television program, 'Skytalking'
15 minutes: local group discussion
30 minutes: each group has an audioconference with tutor
The unit booklets display variety of internal designs used to ensure
participation and interaction to fulfil the various objectives. These include
working in pairs, taking notes, whole group brainstorming, formulating
questions, answering questions, undertaking workplace activities between
programs and so on.
8.3 The 'Victor Kiam' Model
This is the name I have given to large scale Interactive Satellite Television
programs which have featured such people as Victor Kiam, Peter Drucker
and Edward de Bono. The structural design again is different from
the ones above and catered for 200 or more sites with several hundred people
at each, with a total audience sometimes of 15,000 to 20,000. The day would
be organised as follows:
9:00 am Local site introduction to processes and morning coffee, distribution of materials (eg a book by the key presenter)
10:00 am Live, interactive satellite television transmission, with scenarios/case studies, a brief presentation, then questions by telephone and answers from the presenter(s), usually organised by attendants at each site collecting questions written on cards by members of the local audience
12 noon Lunch and local speaker at each site
2:00 pm Live, interactive satellite television transmission as above
4:00 pm Close
These programs are usually on a subscription by site basis. That is,
for a fee, the site is enabled to receive the program. Then, in turn, the
local organisers 'resell' the seats to local participants and retain any
profit gained. This model's greatest strength is in the economies of scale
that are gained. A similar model over half a day using audioconferencing
on a 'meet-me' basis has also been observed with health care workers.
9. Decision-Making Model
The choice of open learning/flexible delivery options should be based
on four decision-making considerations:
9.1 Assess the needs of the participants/clients and practitioners:
9.2 Clarify the objectives of the program, nature of the processes
and the relevance of the content:
9.3 Consider the choice and skills of the practitioners:
8.4 Determine the feasibility of the program:
10. Future issues, trends and unanswered questions
Future predictions usually fall short of reality both in terms of actual developments and the pace of change. The major areas that will impact on flexible delivery of professional development are associated with:
The changing role of the provider involves the way in which educational
and training institutions organise themselves. There are evolving consortia
at national and international levels, there is a very rapid increase in
private providers, and learners are demanding increased flexibility in
terms of who they contract with for various programs.
With regard to globalisation, in addition to institutional consortia mentioned above, it is increasingly possible for providers to transmit both synchonous and asynchronous education/training programs anywhere in the world. For example, the National Technological University provides masters degrees to several countries via satellite television and electronic mail interaction; Duke University provides a 20 month Masters in Business Administration online for US$19,500. The globalisation of the virtual university or the international virtual higher education market place has some exciting potential, but there are also several issues to be considered in putting it all together. Questions that may be asked include:
At best, this globalisation will provided new opportunities and access
where little or none previously existed; at worst it will result in educational
Due to the move to 'open learning' options in advanced education, the
rise in private providers who are being encouraged, the corporatisation
of government services, deregulation of telecommunications, cuts in government
funding for education leading to a user pays system, and a general devolution
of authority in education systems, we are entering a deregulated climate
in which future developments are very difficult to predict. This type of
catch-as-catch-can competitive environment may cause concern if it leads
to lower quality of programs and a fragmentation of the curriculum for
professions. Attempts to overcome this are evident in terms of the setting
of national and international standards for learning outcomes, as well
as requiring providers to become registered in the country in which they
Increased technological options, especially through the convergence
of modes of communication onto the Internet, indicate that all of the above
areas of development will expand exponentially. This, plus the increased
miniturisation of computer technology, the increased flexibility of computer
use, the personalisation of communication contacts and the personalisation
of search engines, will make it possible for adults to tap learning just-in-time
from sources anywhere in the world to meet life and work needs as they
arise. This type of virtual or 'feral' learning will not necessarily have
any overall sequence or plan and educational institutions will be challenged
in terms of learners fronting up for recognition of prior learning. The
learner, whether professional adult or young child will be able to say:
'I amy my school' or 'I am my university'.
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