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by Robin Mason (October 1998)

Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University
ALN Magazine Volume 2, Issue 2
Original article

1. Short description 5. Examples
2. Historical Introduction 6. Issues in Teaching and Learning Online
3. Pedagogical Evolution 7. New learning Environments
4. Online Course Models 8. References

1. Short description

The study is actually a proposal of a simple framework within which it should be considered the online courses that exist. This need arises from the fact that the term "online courses" covers a wide range. Of course, the proposed framework doesn't cover all the applications, but it is an effort to start defining this online educational world.


2. Historical Introduction

We can describe the history of online courses with one phrase: It's a technological journey from command line frustration to user empowerment. The first online courses were delivered on command-line systems. Later on, Archie, Veronica and Gopher were used from course providers to give students access to information and MOO's (Multi user dungeon Object Oriented) came to provide real-time text-based communication. During the 90's, newer conferencing systems became available, and after the advent of the web they supported audio and video also, to conclude to web-in-a-box software for student tracking.

A lot of things changed since then, but three elements still remain the backbone of the online courses:

  1. asynchronous group and individual messaging,
  2. access to course materials and
  3. real-time interactive events.
The biggest evolution has taken place for the access to course materials (2nd) the rest have just become easier by providing a more user-friendly interface. But taking the focus out of access and usability allowed to focus on other problems that is the main interest of this study.


3. Pedagogical Evolution

The pedagogical evolution that has taken place is in the level of adjusting to the technology evolution and not to the teaching itself. The educational approaches are still the same, they are only adapted and re-discovered in their online form.

So, this new online pedagogy that emerged out is characterized by:

But the most essential thing needed is educational design expertise.


4. Online Course Models

So, the proposed framework is consisted of the following three Models:

  1. Content+Support Model
    It is the earliest and the most extensive category. It relies on the separation between course content and tutorial support.
    The content of the materials is relatively unchanging to be tutored also by other tutors than the content authors. Collaborative activity, peer commenting and online assessments are supported by computer conferencing.
    It has been noticed that the students report conflicts for learning the materials and participate to the activities. But, this is changing with the advent of the Web conferencing that makes this category to blur with the next two.
  2. Wrap Around Model
    It consists of tailor made materials wrapped around existing materials. It can be considered as the 50/50 model because it takes half of the student's time for the online activities and half for the predetermined content.
    This model favors the resource-based approach to learning, gives more freedom and responsibility to the student and extends the tutor's role because less of the course is pre-determined.
    Real-time online events feature sometimes also in this model for problem-solving areas of the curriculum.
  3. Integrated Model
    This is the opposite of the first model because it dissolves the distinction between content and support.
    It consists of collaborative activities, learning ressources and joint assignments.
    Most of the course is online and the course content is largely defined by the individual and group activity.
    Real-time communication is advanced and support small group activities and tasks.


5. Examples

Content+Support Model is used extensively in the UK Open University. For example, the Technology Foundation course (5000 students), the second level Information Technology course (DT200) and courses in the Open Business School (40000 students). Mostly, these courses use FirstClass. There is also a web-based version of this model (100 web pages) that is particularly appropriate for short courses and for professional updating or training courses.
This model can achieve unprecented economies of scale.

The Wrap-around Model is used from less well known OU courses. For example, the Artificial Intelligence and Lisp programming (DM863) course that uses a textbook and FirstClass.
The courses that follow this model may require a higher ratio of tutors to students or possibly a higher rate of payment due to their greater responsibility in creating the course, but for small courses is still cost-effective.

The only OU course that approaches the Integrated Model is the second year of the Masters in Open and Distance Education. The aim of this model is to create a self-sustaining learning community, but to make this model equally achievable on a large scale, will be the ultimate OU test.


6. Issues in Teaching and Learning Online

To summarize, the issues of the online teaching are:

  1. collaborative working,
  2. rolling intake versus cohort system,
  3. tutor workload,
  4. motivation of students and
  5. sustainable models for online education.


7. New learning Environments

The following two concepts define the nature of the new learning environments:

These new environments apply most to adults studying at a distance, particularly at postgraduate or professional development level, evethough we are going to see them appear in other courses too...


8. References

Mason, R. and kaye, A.

(eds.) (1989) Mindwave: Communication, Computers and Distance education.
Pergamon Press, Oxford.

Harasim, L.

(ed.) (1990) Online Education. Perspectives on a new Environment.
Praeger, New York.

Kroll, E.

(1992) The Whole Internet. User's Guide and Catalog.
O'Reilly and Associates, Sebastopol, CA.

Khan, B.

(ed.)(1997) Web-Based Instruction.
Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Harasim, L., Hiltz, S., Teles, L. and Turoff, M.

(1995) Learning Networks.
MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Bos, E., Kikstra, A. and Morgan, C.

(1996) 'Multiple levels of use of the web as a learning tool'.
In: Educational telecommunications, 1996
Proceedings of ED-TELECOM,
Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Boston, Mass.

Collis, B.

(1996) Tele-learning in a Digital World.
Thomson Computer Press, London.

©Vivian Synteta (03/06/99) updated 10/06/99
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