From teaching to learning: technological potential and sustainable, supported open learning

Bell, Simon and Lane, Andrew (1998). From teaching to learning: technological potential and sustainable, supported open learning. Systems Practice and Action Research, 11(6) pp. 629–650.




The central theme of this paper is the current interest in most educational institutions in moving from teaching to learning as their main system model and the implications which technology media have for unravelling the debate and influencing the resulting practice (for example see Active Learning: Using the Internet for Teaching, Number 2, July, 1995), Our chosen strategy for dealing with the central theme is to consider how we use language, metaphor and models to describe systems for teaching and learning and what is the role of technology in these systems. In particular we describe how the Open University is moving from an analysis of individual technologies to a synthesis of the educational ideas into a sustainable system that conforms to the University's policy of supported open learning. This includes focusing on open and equal access to courses, considerable attention to staff development and training (specifically in core teaching areas such as face to face tuition, correspondence tuition, student support, telephone and other media supported communication) as well as the necessity and value of reflection on practice (e.g. see Baker, Tomlinson et al,, 1996). In this first section, taking as our starting point the traditional linear view of educational structures, we build upon the notion of the learning system and describe this as an approach with a somewhat long and surprising history originating in the Socratic method. An eductive, cyclic learning model is introduced, and the historical impact of technology on this model is briefly reviewed in a global context by addressing the specific issue of access from the developing countries. Following from this, in sections two and three two types of teaching are described, under the labels of ‘conventional’ and ‘distance’. It is argued that each has strengths and tendencies towards the eductive learning system introduced in section one. However, it is also argued that each has flaws which provide problems for the development of a learning system which can be sustained at distance. An analysis based upon metaphor is applied. In section four, it is then argued that in the conventional model there is a system with excellent learning potential but with an organisational structure which often does not encourage it whereas in the distance model there is the potential organisation for providing feedback but often little effective use made of it. That lack of use includes the new technologies which are now being focused on by the Open University, both in terms of the INSTILL initiative (Integrate New Systems and Technologies Into Lifelong Learning) and the ‘Technology Strategy for Academic Advantage’ (Laurillard, Christmas et al., 1996). These technologies are argued, in section five, to be capable of being tactically effective in stimulating and supporting the strategic aim of learning. Technology mediation is discussed both in terms of course-based teaching and in terms of research opportunities. In section six a range of problem/opportunity areas of immediate concern for the extension of this technologically mediated system to the developing countries are discussed, while policy implications for the extension of supported open learning are drawn out in section seven. These include policies toward co-learning, access to learning, quality standards and the authorship of educational material.

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