Media and adult learning: A forum: Lifelong learning and distance education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University North Carolina - Chapel Hill]On: 29 October 2014, At: 07:41Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T3JH, UK

    American Journal of DistanceEducationPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hajd20

    Media and adult learning: Aforum: Lifelong learning anddistance educationChristopher Knapper aa Director of Teaching Resources and ContinuingEducation (TRACE) , University of Waterloo ,Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, CanadaPublished online: 24 Sep 2009.

    To cite this article: Christopher Knapper (1988) Media and adult learning: A forum:Lifelong learning and distance education, American Journal of Distance Education,2:1, 63-72, DOI: 10.1080/08923648809526609

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08923648809526609

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  • THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF DISTANCE EDUCATIONVol. 2 No. 1 1988

    MEDIA AND ADULT LEARNING:A FORUM

    Lifelong Learningand Distance Education

    Christopher Knapper

    The Place of Distance Learning in Higher Education

    The roots of university-level distance education go back many years, butthe perception still remains in many quarters that distance courses offerat most a type of "back-door" learning or are a second-best substitute foron-campus instruction. In universities with both traditional on-campuscourses and distance programs, the latter often have to struggle forlegitimacy, and recognition that standards are equivalent to those of regularofferings. As a defence against criticism, distance educators often striveto replicate face-to-face instruction as closely as possible; for example,by insisting on a common syllabus and examination, basing distance lear-ning materials on the content of on-campus lectures, using a standard text-book, and perhaps having the same individual teach both versions of thecourse. For example, in the University of Waterloo's correspondence pro-gram, instruction is paced throughout the term as it would be for on-campusstudents, a set of audiocassettes is intended to serve the function of livelectures, course notes provide what might be written on the blackboardor issued to on-campus students as handouts, assignments consist of tradi-tional essays and term papers, textbooks are used in the same way in bothtypes of course, and correspondence courses have compulsory final ex-aminations. A somewhat similar approach to meet a comparable concernis reported by Duignan and Teather (1985) with respect to the Universityof New England.

    There is no doubt that a great boost for the credibility of university-leveldistance education has been provided by the creation of the British OpenUniversity (OU) and its achievements over the past seventeen years. Heretoo there were initial concerns about educational standards, and it is in-teresting that one response was to imbue the new institution with manyof the trappings of an established British university, such as degree con-vocations, a traditional departmental structure, academic titles, and evena student newspaper. At the same time the approach to course develop-

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    ment and delivery pioneered by the OU represented a significant innova-tion for British higher education.

    Those of us who have a professional concern with the improvement ofteaching and learning throughout the university will not be sanguine aboutthe effectiveness of many teaching methods used in traditional higher educa-tion. We do not take for granted the desirability of simulating these ap-proaches when designing distance education courses. Rather, we mightargue that distance instruction should not be judged by comparison with"mainstream" university teaching, because the latter has existed (and oftenremained unchanged) for many years, but we should set our educationalgoals and strive to realise these as fully as possible, using whateverpedagogical approaches and delivery methods are most effective.

    It is true of course that certain instructional options are not feasibleorare very difficultin distance teaching. But it may be possible to "makea virtue out of necessity" by capitalizing on the special qualities of distancestudents and the rather unique learning situation in which they are placed.This might mean, for example, exploiting students' greater maturity, lifeexperience, and motivation. By being required to rely on their resourcesthey can become self-directed, autonomous learners capable of guidingtheir own studies throughout life, and able to call upon a wide variety oflearning resources that stretch well beyond the facilities of the institutiondelivering the instruction. Even for on-campus students who have the benefitof regular class meetings (lectures, tutorials, etc.), it is known that thebulk of their learning takes place outside the classroom and in the absenceof an instructor. (Entwistle and Ramsden [1983] have provided a recentoverview of research on the way students study.) In this sense the situa-tion of the distance learner might be regarded as an extreme case of tradi-tional classroom learning. To push the point even further, it might be thatinstead of striving to replicate the conditions of the classroom for the remotestudent, we should instead be trying to instill in traditional students theindependent study approaches that distance learners are forced to adoptout of necessity.

    Lifelong Learning: A New Catchword for Continuing Education

    This argument rests, of course, on the underlying assumption that a majorgoal of education is to produce students who can guide their own learn-ing. This is a basic precept of "lifelong learning"a term that has beenused with increasing frequency in relation to both continuing educationand distance instruction (see, for example, Verduin, Miller, and Greer[1986]). At first sight the idea inherent in lifelong learning is disarminglysimple, presumably referring to the fairly obvious notion that people beginlearning from the moment they enter the world, actually even before birth

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    (Stone, Murphy, and Smith 1972), and continue to do so throughout theirlives. However, as a slogan, lifelong learning seems to have an appealboth for educators and students alike, and it has been employed widelyin promotional material for otherwise traditional continuing education anddistance programs across North America. Used in this way (which a cynicmight say is a means of changing the label without changing the product),lifelong education offered through university extension programs or cor-respondence courses might be no more than a means for promoting lifelongschooling, and for attracting new populations of students in an era of level-ling or declining enrollments and increasing fiscal constraints.

    Faure's Concept of Lifelong Learning

    The concept of lifelong learning received considerable worldwide at-tention with the publication of Edgar Faure's book, Learning to Be, in1972. Subsequently UNESCO adopted lifelong learning as a guiding prin-ciple for educational reform and has actively promoted the concept througha large-scale program of research, publications, and policy guidelines(UNESCO 1983).

    Faure and his associates (1972) conceptualized a system of learning whichwould be:

    available throughout an individual's lifetime;would respond to each person's needs to cope with the demands of con-temporary society;

    would involve learners in guiding and directing their own learning; andwould encourage learning from a variety of sources, both formal (forexample, schools) and non-formal (for example, in the workplace orfrom colleagues).

    In other words the message underlying Learning to Be could be summarisedby saying that learning should be "from life, for life, and throughout life."

    Faure advanced a number of reasons for the importance of lifelong learn-ing as opposed to other educational approaches. The underlying philosoph-ical assumptions of the concept included: (1) a desire to democratize educa-tion (as opposed to encouraging what was seen as the "authoritarianism"of the school and reliance solely on "experts" to provide instruction), (2)a desire to provide equality of opportunity in education (in contrast to whatwas seen as an "elitist" model guiding much contemporary schooling),and (3) a will to improve the quality of life for people of all nations andin all circumstances (the idea of education as a means of self-actualization).In addition to these philosophical reasons, Faure also offered the pragmaticrationale for encouraging lifelong learning that it would enable individualsto cope with a world of increasingly rapid and dramatic changechange

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    not only in the workplace but also in society at large and even in socialrelations (e.g., family structure).

    This brief summary of Faure's ideas should clarify his conception oflifelong learning and lifelong education, which cannot be regarded as simplya restatement of principles of adult education, recurrent education, or evencontinuing education. Of course these educational approaches are not in-compatible with the ideas of lifelong learning: indeed, they can be em-braced within the philosophy of lifelong education developed by Faure.He would argue, however, that lifelong learning is a much broader con-cept than continuing, recurrent, adult, or distance education. It encom-passes the whole life of the individual and not just the adult years, neitheris it restricted to formal educational establishments, such as schools anduniversities, nor to any specific types of media or delivery systems.

    Lifelong Learning: Implications for Distance Education

    By broadening educational opportunities and reaching new populationsof learners, distance education appears to fulfill at least some of the criteriafor lifelong learning spelled out by Faure and his colleagues. Knapper andCropley (1985) have discussed the principles of lifelong learning in rela-tion to the organizational systems and teaching methods used in contem-porary colleges and universities, and have developed a list of relevant criteriaderived from the work of Faure and a number of other seminal writerson lifelong education. Although Knapper and Cropley's main focus is noton distance education, they discuss distance learning programs as onemechanism for helping promote learning throughout life, and it is interestingto examine their comprehensive set of criteria against some of the majorcomponents inherent in distance teaching.

    Table 1. Pedagogical criteria for lifelong education.

    Students plan their own learning

    Students evaluate their own learning

    There is a stress on formative assessment methods

    Active learning methods are emphasized

    Learning takes place in both formal and informal settings

    Learning takes place from peers

    Material from different subject areas and disciplines is integrated

    Learning strategies are tailored to the student's situation, the nature of the task, and the

    instructional objectives

    Learning focusses on real-world problems

    The process of learning is stressed at least as much as instructional content

    Adapted from Knapper and Cropley (1985, 170).

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    The authors distinguish between pedagogical criteria that relate to aspectsof teaching and learning, and criteria that focus on organizational systemswithin higher education institutions, thus affecting the way instruction isoffered and learning takes place. Table 1 lists the pedagogical criteria, whileTable 2 represents the organizational criteria.

    In each case it is possible to examine items on the list (individual criteria)and consider to what extent they are fulfilled by different educational ap-proaches, including distance learning. For example, if the attributes listedin Table 1 are considered in relation to traditional on-campus universityteaching (which involves paced instruction, teaching by the largely didac-tic lecture method, and assessment by means of a formal final examina-tion), then it is clear that few of the criteria for lifelong learning are fulfilled.In other words, traditional teaching approaches in universities do not in-volve students in the process of planning instruction, evaluating learningfrom peers, integrating material from different subject areas, etc.

    Table 2. Organizational criteria for lifelong education.

    Participation by a broad cross section of the population

    Integration of general and vocationally oriented education

    Flexibility in the content and organization of instruction

    Credit for prior learning experiences in both formal and non-formal settings

    Close links between education and the world of work

    Use of non-professional teachers and resource people where appropriate

    Emphasis on self-instruction

    Provision of help with learning and study skills

    Adapted from Knapper and Cropley (1985,171).

    Turning to Table 2, traditional higher education is not especially flexi-ble in course content and organization, rarely gives credit for life experience,only occasionally encourages links with outside work settings, hardly everemploys non-professional teachers, etc. Clearly this is an oversimplifica-tion, and many examples could be cited of exceptions to this generaliza-tion in some institutions or with particular instructional approaches andorganizational systems that range from project-based teaching to work-studyprograms. Knapper and Cropley provide an extensive review of such in-novations, but conclude that the instructional methods and means oforganization in much of higher education are incompatible with the prin-ciples of lifelong learning.

    An interesting question and one not considered in any detail in Knapperand Cropley's book is to what extent distance education might fulfillthe criteria listed in the two tables above. On the whole, a good deal of

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    distance teaching fares a little better than traditional on-campus instruc-tion in this respect. There are some obvious areas where distance methodsappear to be superior, and a number of other areas where there is con-siderable potential for the encouragement of lifelong learning.

    Looking first at Table 1, in most distance education programs studentsare involved to a considerable degree in planning their own learning, andthis applies especially in non-paced programs. Equally, in some distancecourses students may be allowed to evaluate their own learning, althoughthe results of such evaluation are rarely used as part of the official gradeor credit for the course. It is fair to say that most distance programs en-courage active learning, at least in the sense that students must take respon-sibility for their own learning to progress through the course they can-not sit passively at the back of the lecture hall. Similarly, in some institu-tions distance learners have the opportunity to engage in peer learning (forexample, by means of regional study groups or teleconferencing); thereare some notable instances of distance courses that succeed in integratingmaterial from different subject areas; and some distance courses even at-tempt to encourage learning in both formal and informal settings forexample, by involving students in projects within their own communities.On the other hand, there are very few examples of formative assessmentin distance courses, of tailoring learning strategies to the particular situa-tion in which students find themselves, or of student self-evaluation againstreal-world criteria. It may also be true that because of the difficulty ofinvolving distance students in discussions or workshops, there is a temp-tation to downplay the processes of learning and unduly stress masteryof content, which can be transmitted more easily using non-interactive mediasuch as print.

    When measured against the organizational criteria of lifelong learning(Table 2), once again distance education does not by any means fulfillall the criteria, but does better than traditional teaching approaches in highereducation. For example, it is clear that most special-purpose distance educa-tion institutions encourage participation from a much broader range of in-dividuals than conventional universities, and the same is often true fordistance programs within traditional establishments. Furthermore, distancecourses, by definition, encourage much more self-instruction than regularuniversity programs. Some distance institutions allow credit for life ex-perience, but this is by no means the norm. Flexibility in course contentand organization is, by the nature of distance teaching, difficult to achieve,although a number of universities (for example Athabasca) have introducedself-paced courses that at least partly meet this criterion. On the other hand,few distance programs have achieved links with outside work settings. Vir-tually none employ non-professional teachers to supplement their instuc-

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    tion (except perhaps as regional tutors). Furthermore, help with learningskills and other counselling needs of students are notoriously difficult toprovide in a distance mode.

    Conclusions: Achieving Lifelong Learning at a Distance

    The foregoing brief discussion introduced some criteria for promotingeffective lifelong learning in universities and examined the way in whichdistance education doesor mightfulfill these requirements. In termsof the principles set forward by Faure, Knapper and Cropley, and others,distance instruction has two enormous advantages over much of traditionalhigher education. First, it has the potential for substantially broadeningaccess to higher learning and hence for fostering greater equality of educa-tional opportunity; second, it places a major emphasis on self-instruction,active study methods, and students' assumption of responsibility for theirown learning. In the case of the other listed criteria, surprisingly few areimpossible to achieve by distance education, and the remainder, while fre-quently neglected in existing distance programs, have been achieved inat least some instances, and could in theory be incorporated into a greatmany more. The writers on lifelong learning mentioned here are not theonly advocates of student autonomy in learning as a major goal for distanceprograms. For example, this is a point of view strongly espoused byHolmberg (1985), who even rejects pacing in distance education becauseit places constraints upon the extent to which students may direct their ownlearning.

    At the same time, by no means do all distance educators espouse thegoal of promoting independent, autonomous learning, and those who domay not succeed in achieving this goal in practice. Indeed, there may wellbe a "pull" in university distance education programs towards replicatingconventional models of instruction. This seems especially likely in dual-mode universities whose major activity is on-campus teaching in traditionalprograms. The example of Waterloo's correspondence program has alreadybeen described in some detail. While the approach used at Waterloo ap-pears to be very popular with students, and course completion rates arehigh, it begs the question of whether the methods employed best servethe needs of students from a lifelong learning perspective.

    Interestingly, this dilemma is not confined to dual-mode institutions. Forexample, Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada, was established spe-cifically to develop and teach distance courses, and its programs incor-porate professional course design, a team approach to course development,freedom for students to proceed entirely at their own pace, and use of avariety of instructional strategies and support services aimed at promotinglearner independence. According to Rubin (1985), however, over the past

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    ten years Athabasca has seen increasing pressure to retreat from its in-novative methods of instructional development and adopt more conven-tional means of course preparation, organization, and delivery.

    These pressures are brought in part by faculty, who have generally re-ceived their own higher education in traditional universities, and may havelimited knowledge of educational theory or teaching methods. Anothersource of resistance to change away from passive, teacher-centered educa-tional approaches comes from students. They may be fearful of taking moreresponsibility for their own learning, and have an overly respectful viewof the wisdom of the authority of the expert (teacher), based upon theirown prior experience as students. This will be especially likely for thosewho have little formal learning experience, or whose previous educationtook place many years ago. Many students may also be resistant to moreactive learning approaches, simply because they involve more work andless convenience than studying a fixed body of information from a text-book or audiotapes and preparing for examinations that place major em-phasis on memory for factual content (as opposed to acquisition of morenebulous, but probably more generalizable problem-solving or decision-making skills). This may explain the reluctance of a great many studentsin the Waterloo correspondence program to involve themselves in campusvisits or optional teleconferences. Similar findings with respect to theAthabasca program have been reported by Rubin (1985).

    Such sources of resistance imply that it will not be easy to turn distanceeducation towards philosophies and methods that might encourage lifelonglearning in the sense meant by Faure. At the same time, there are severalfactors working in favour of such an idea. As mentioned, many distancelearners are more mature, have a broader range in life, work, and eveneducational experience. They are in a unique position to forge links be-tween their employment, their everyday lives, and what they learn viadistance education. Distance learners are generally highly motivated and,out of necessity, placed in a situation where they must take responsibilityfor guiding their own studies with only minimal help from an educationalinstitution. Indeed, most distance students are already successful lifelonglearners: but they may not recognize the fact. They may actually devaluetheir achievements in non-formal learning settings such as the workplace,neighbourhood, or home, and mistakenly believe that the only worthwhileinstruction is delivered via an educational institution. Other positive fac-tors for effecting change relate to the qualities of distance educatorsthemselves. Despite some of the previous pessimistic comments, distanceeducation can boast of practitioners who display dedication to their work,understanding of basic learning principles, and openness to alternativeteaching approaches. In fact there have already been some considerable

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    achievements in meeting some of the criteria spelled out by Knapper andCropley (1985).

    If distance educators accept that lifelong learning, student autonomy,and acquiring the skills to "learn how to learn" are primary goals, thenthey will have to go further and build upon what has already been ac-complished. This may mean, among other things, an increasing concernwith helping students acquire effective study skillsand this does not simplymean skills that will serve for traditional teaching, such as rote memoriza-tion. Greater use must be made of independent learning activities, suchas projects that encourage learners to exploit resources in their own com-munity, place of work, and so on. And faculty will have to adopt rolesas resource providers and facilitators, rather than serving primarily astransmitters of information or founts of expertise. This implies special train-ing for distance teachers, especially those in dual-mode institutions wherethe differences between distance media and on-campus instruction are oftennot fully appreciated. Finally, more efforts will be required to establishlearning networks and to use non-teachers as sources of advice and infor-mation; for example, librarians, fellow students, workmates, and othersin the community with special knowledge.

    It is argued here that distance education already goes further towardspromoting lifelong learning than does much traditional university instruc-tion. However, the mere existence of distance education coursesand hencenew opportunities for remote learnersdoes not guarantee that what islearned will be worthwhile, even though students may succeed in fulfill-ing formal course requirements. If distance education merely replicatestraditional instruction using new delivery media, then this will probablydo little to foster student autonomy or help them acquire the necessary skillsto guide their own learning throughout the rest of their lives and in a varietyof life situations. Rather, it is important to build on learners' inherentcapacities for independent study, and not simply use distance programsto provide a lacklustre substitute for traditional, and often moribund,classroom teaching.

    References

    Duignan, P. A., and D. C. B. Teather. 1985. Teaching educational ad-ministration externally at post-graduate level at the University of NewEngland. Distance Education 6:34-55.

    Entwistle, N., and P. Ramsden. 1983. Understanding Student Learning.London: Croom Helm.

    Faure, E. and others. 1972. Learning To Be: The World of Education To-day and Tomorrow. Paris and London: UNESCO.

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    Holmberg, B. 1985. Status and Trends of Distance Education. Lund:Lector.

    Knapper, C. K., and A. J. Cropley. 1985. Lifelong Learning and HigherEducation. London: Croom Helm.

    Rubin, E. D. 1985. The changing role of instructional development ser-vices in the distance education institution. A paper presented at themeeting of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,June, Ottawa.

    Stone, L. J., L. B. Murphy, and H. T. Smith, eds. 1972. The CompetentInfant: Research and Comment. New York: Basic Books.

    UNESCO. 1983. Final Report of the International Meeting of Experts onthe Implementation of the Principles of Lifelong Education. Paris:UNESCO.

    Verduin, J. R., H. G. Miller, and C. E. Greer. 1986. The Lifelong Learn-ing Experience: An Introduction. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

    The year 2000 is just a decade-plus-two away:The MILLENNIUM,

    also means the Golden Age, or the Second Coming. Hitler raved about"a New Millennium." Over five thousand articles and six hundred bookshave recently been published with prophecies by futurists and planners aboutthe first year of the twenty-first century. Fundamentalists warn A.D. 2000could contain the "day of judgment." The Pope promises "a year of greatjubilee" to observe the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth. Let's net-work with alternative visions for this fateful year. Write Basic Choices,1023 Drake, Madison, WI53715. We'll get back to you with our views,those of others, and a bibliography if you include a self-addressed-stampedenvelope.

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