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Defining open and distance learning

In recent years the definition and application of open and distance learning have been evolving in parallel with the arrival of newer and intelligent technologies. Today, and in the foreseeable future, open and distance education embraces any or all of the following:

Open learning - policies and practices that permit entry to learning with no or minimum barriers with respect to age, gender, or time constraints and with recognition of prior learning. These policies need not be part of a distance education system but are comple­mentary to it.

Distance education - the delivery of learning or training to those who are separated mostly by time and space from those who are teaching or training. The teaching is done with a variety of "mediating processes"* used to transmit content, to provide tuition and to conduct assessment or measure outcomes.

Flexible learning - the provision of learning opportunities that can be accessed at any place and time. Flexible learning relates more to the scheduling of activities than to any particular delivery mode.*

Online learning and e-learning - terms that have emerged to describe the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance distance education, implement open learning policies, make learning activities more flexible and enable those learning activities to be distributed among many learning venues.*

Virtual education - includes aspects of both online and e-learning but goes somewhat further. While it is largely web-centric it does not necessarily limit itself to learners outside a conventional classroom. It uses multimedia and, besides delivering content, also enables a high level of interaction among learners, content, teachers, peers and administration both synchronously and asynchronously

*Farrell, Glen (ed.). 2003. A Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth. Vancouver: The Commonwealth of Learning.


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Last modified: 06/08/08
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