9a iv). Identify some of the philosophies that govern distance education.
9.6 Philosophy of distance education
The philosophy behind distance education system revolves around several issues. Firstly there is an emphasis on individual study and independence of students. This mode of education is obliged to assume that its students are self-regulated, while at the same time its practices the ethos of “opening ” education for those who are not able to enroll at residential institutions. One of the proponents of the theory of autonomy and independence in distance education was Charles Wedemeyer (1977), who is considered as the father of American distance education. Influenced by a democratic social ideal and liberal educational philosophy he considered that everyone should have the right to learn. He based his assumption of adult learning on the fact that adults are supposed to have the potential for self-direction. He proposed three main conceptualizations of independence for learners namely:
- Learning through self-pacing, the learner paces learning according to his/her circumstances and needs
- Learning to be individualized and learners he free to follow any of several courses of learning
- The learner should have the freedom to select goals and activities
Written (1988) challenges those who see distance education as characterized by independence and autonomy by are not borne out by reality but that the students have similar characteristics and needs as other adult conventional students. She refutes Moore’s claims that students choose distance education because they have special personal qualities of independence and asserts that the choice is based on practical reasons.
The second philosophical issue is that there is an emphasis on self-instruction as a method of learning. The philosophical base of distance education is that learners are on their own most of the time. The learner is assumed to be sufficiently motivated to read through the materials, search for more reference materials, carry out experiments, research and prepare reports.
The third philosophical issue is that materials are presented in small and relatively easy to master doses to keep learners conscious of their progress. Just like in this module the units are accompanied by some exercises and suggested activities. The learners got through some reading, work out the exercises, present their work to the tutors for assessment before moving on. Care should be taken to ensure that the exercises are given in reasonable doses to keep the learner aware and appraised of his/her progress.
The fourth philosophical issue is that the learning materials are organized following the principle of guided didactic conversation, namely through the provision of a two-way communication and occasional seminars. The thrust of this point should be reflected in the preparation of the learning materials bearing in mind the fact that distance education creates a feeling of the personal relationship between teaching and learning to motivate students. Borje Holmberg (1995) put forward the theory of distance education as a guided didactic conversation. Students would be more successful in these circumstances than if the course has an impersonal character. This is why we should use more colloquial language in the preparation of study material. This conversational style of presentation was designed to promote empathy with the student. The fifth and last philosophical issue is the creation of a two-way communication through student counseling services, tutoring and use of self-checking exercises. Unlike conventional students distance education learners tend to have more problems, that if not addressed on time can lead to dropping out since distance learners are normally adults, there is a tendency for them to take time to adjust their life routines. They will most probably be having families with children in school, with extended family commitments and with professional work demands. All these must be met and still, ample time be found for studies. These pressures together with the financial demands tend to wear down the psychological drive within the student. It, therefore, becomes necessary to have in place guidance and counseling services to handle students with symptoms of stress or depression.