Challenges Facing Distance
Education in the 21st Century:
Implications for Setting the
Research Agenda
Sarah Guri-Rosenblit
EDEN, Fifth Research Workshop
Paris, 20 October, 2008
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Distance delivery in higher education –
Clear mission for over 150 years
Providing second-chance students the
opportunity to pursue academic or
professional studies
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Second-chance parameters
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Lack of entry qualifications
Work/family/health constraints
Remote location
Being a woman
……..
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Distance Education Promoted
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Broadening of access
Equity
Quality ??? (depends…)
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Typical Research Topics
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Comparison with outcomes in
conventional education settings
Perseverance in studies
Explanations of drop-out rates
Use of diverse technologies
Impact of support systems
Economies-of-scale….
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Current Influential Trends
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Growing access to higher
education
Globalization
Emergence of the ICT
Marketization
Blurring of boundaries between DE
and conventional universities
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Teaching and Research
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Are DTUs only/mainly teaching
universities?
If research oriented – what kind of
research? (DE related or general and
broad?)
Relevance of league tables
(Opting to a ‘world-class university’
status?)
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The Grand Question:
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Should research be done
ON distance education
or
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Should research be performed
BY distance educators in
different disciplines
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Scope of Operation
(Global, National, Local?)
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Target populations
Curricula
Role of academic faculty
Nature of support systems
Budgeting
Language of instruction
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Scope of Operation (2)

The wider the scope of operation,
the more challenging it is to set
effective quality assurance
mechanisms

The application of ICT is most
instrumental in designing a global
network, but national
infrastructures vary enormously
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Scope of Operation (3)

What kind of effective quality
assurance mechanisms are to be
used by DE providers in global,
national and local contexts?

What are the optimal ICT uses in
global, national and local
contexts?
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Size & Mode of Operation
Single-mode
 Dual-mode
 Blended-mode
 Consortia
---------------------------------- Teaching style
 Costs
 Flexibility

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Size & Mode of Operation (2)
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Size was most crucial in the
industrial mode, but not in the
e-learning model
Is there an optimal size for DE
delivery online?
What are the future leading models
of DE?
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Size & Mode of Operation (3)
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Are there still cost-effectiveness
advantages to DE delivery in the
digital age?
How can the large DTUs
restructure their overall operation
and underlying premises?
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Spectrum of Curricula
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Unique or the same as in conventional
universities?
Broad/comprehensive or in niche
areas?
Academic degrees? Professional and
continuing education?
Undergraduate or graduate focus?
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Spectrum of Curricula (2)
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Should DE providers widen access
mainly in market-demanded areas or in
nationally-needed domains?
Should DE providers broaden access to
undergraduate studies? Graduate
studies? Professional development?
Personal development?
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Distance Education Providers:
Enabling or Supporting Institutions?
 DE- more demanding than F-2-F
 Novices in academia need more
guidance
 Students of disadvantaged
backgrounds need even more support
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Distance Education Providers:
Enabling or Supporting Institutions?
(2)
 How to design most effective support
systems in multiple contexts?
 Who is to budget the appropriate support
mechanisms (state governments, NGOs,
philanthropic donors, students
themselves)?
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Public vs. Private Institutions
in Distance Education
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Large DTUs – governments’
initiation
Market initiatives- danger of
‘diploma mills’
Private operation within public
institutions
Quality control mechanisms
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Public vs. Private Institutions
in Distance Education (2)
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Whose responsibility it is to
impose quality assurance
mechanisms in private DE
institutions?
How to design effective DE private
endeavors within public
universities?
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Employment of Digital
Technologies
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Challenging the industrial mode of
DE
Digital divide (developed vs.
developing countries, rich vs.
poor)
Role of NGOs in setting
appropriate infrastructures
Potential of mobile technologies
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Employment of Digital
Technologies (2)
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Acknowledging that DE and
e-learning are not the same thing
How various-type DE providers
harness the ICT to serve their goals?
What are the appropriate measures to
overcome the digital divide among
nations and within nations?
Consolidation of research findings on
ICT
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“When it comes to
technology, most people
overestimate it in the short
term, and underestimate it in
the long term”.
Sir Arthur Clarke
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Guri-Rosenblit, S. (2009). Digital
Technologies in Higher Education:
Sweeping Expectations and Actual
Effects. New York: Nova Science.
ISBN – 978-1-60692-238-5
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Competition vs. Collaboration

Identification of competitors
(DE institutions or conventional
universities?)
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Identification of cooperating parties
(In academia and the corporate
world, within national boundaries
and beyond, both in teaching and
research)
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Competition vs. Collaboration (2)
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How fruitful collaboration promotes
widening of access?
How fruitful collaboration enhances
quality assurance mechanisms?
How fruitful collaboration promotes
the creation of research networks
on DE and other fields (and
contributes to the status of DTUs)?
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Intellectual Property
vs.
Intellectual Philanthropy
DE institutions as leading academic
publishing houses
----------------------------------------------------- Defining the role of DE providers in
the Open Source movement
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Intellectual Property
vs.
Intellectual Philanthropy (2)

To what extent does the open source
movement influence the revenues of
DTUs as publishing houses?

How to mobilize the open source
movement to widen access to higher
education and professional
development?
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Language of Instruction

Serving national needs (academic
textbooks in national languages)
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English as the academic lingua
franca
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Language of Instruction (2)
To what extent does the knowledge of
languages (and particularly
English) influence:
 Access to higher education?
 Equity in higher education?
 Effective use of the Internet and
digital technologies’ potential?
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