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The Design and Implementation of a Networked Technology For Open & Distance Learning - Review from the field By ABDULHAMEED ALENEZI Utara University – Malaysia


This paper tries to highlight important issues in the area of Open and Distance Learning (OPL) which currently is still discussed in many parts of the world. The focus of this paper is on exploring some models and platforms that have been investigated from another studies. The main purpose of this paper is to discus the educational objectives and goals of an open and distance learning; the usual framework of information system used in a networked virtual classroom; who are the target learners as well as their unique characteristics and their role; the special role of the mentors; the activities involved in distance learning; and the materials used in distance learning.

Key words: Open and Distance Learning (ODL); Networked Technology; “Virtual classroom.


INTRODUCTION Over the decades, more funds are invested for the improvement of the ‘internet’ access, the expansion of the World Wide Web (WWW), the growth of computer software and hardware companies as well as other related technology has made the use of computers in learning more cost effective. Now-a-days, computers are considered as one of the most widely used electronic devices at home and in schools (Jones, R. et.all, 2007). During the past several years, the field of educational has adopted the use of information and communication technology (ICT). The continuously increasing demand as well as the rapid expansion these technology opens a new path towards the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) (Blunkett, D. 1998).Specifically the Development of the Web-based communication as well as the collaboration of other related tools are considered as the basis for the design and implementation of a ‘Networked Virtual Classrooms’ we have today supports the flexibility in the educational and training systems (Paraskevas, A. et al.,2003).Over the years, there has been a constant changes in the terminology used in describing the Web-based ODL. Sometimes the term ‘Networked Open Learning’ (NOL), Networked Learning (NL) or Electronic Learning (e-learning) can be used interchangeably.( McConnel, D., 1999 & Tait, A. 2003) The Networked Virtual Classroom functions in two ways: as a learning material database and a two-way platform for the mentors and students. According to Turoff (1995), a virtual classroom can be used as a substitute for a classroom-based teaching through the use of an electronic-based environment that incorporates the virtual working spaces with the use of communication features.6 On the other hand, McCormack and Jones (1998) describe a virtual classroom as a Web-based environment that has an organizational, communicational, and evaluation features wherein the mentors and students conducts the learning activities (McCormack, C. & Jones, D.,1998). This study will discuss about the educational objectives and goals of an open and distance learning; the usual framework of information system used in a networked virtual classroom; who are the target learners as well as their unique characteristics and their role; the special role of the mentors; the activities involved in distance learning; and the materials used in distance learning. EDUCATIONAL AIMS AND OBJECTIVES Open and Distance Learning (ODL) aims to enable the people to access the educational system by removing all barriers including time, place, and pace(Trindade, 1993). The objective of implementing a networked technology for distance learning is to gather the mentors and learners all over the world to communicate using computers that are linked to networks. FRAMEWORK OF INFORMATION SYSTEM THAT SUPPORT THE NETWORKED VIRTUAL CLASSROOM The Networked Virtual Classroom has a total of five processes: the student process, mentor process, delivery of learning materials process, evaluation process, and the classroom administrator process. Each process has its own functions. The ‘Student Process’ enables the students to perform activities such as communication with the mentor, the access to the learning materials, access to the administrative and evaluation process of the system and other necessary activities that support the users-students during the interaction with the Networked Virtual Classroom. The ‘Mentor Process’ allows the tutor to communicate with the students, adapting and delivering the learning materials to the students, and other activities that supports the mentor in his interaction with the networked virtual classroom. The ‘Delivery of Learning Material Process’ transfers information related to the evaluation process and carries out all the searching procedures needed for the appropriate learning materials based on the students’ needs and eventually deliver the reading materials to the students. The ‘Evaluation Process’ supports the evaluation and self-evaluation procedures and the updates of the student portfolios with the needed information regarding the progress in the students’ learning. Lastly, the ‘Classroom Administrator Process’ carries out the learning activities related to administrative or secretarial functions and the technical support needed by the mentor and the students.


The information model that is designed for a networked virtual classroom databases includes the learning material and other related information pertaining to the learning progress of each student as well as the necessary links among them (Paraskevas A. et al., 2003). The links or connections enable the data flow between each process. (See Figure 1 – The Architecture Model for a Networked Virtual Classroom; Annex I – Data Flow Process)

Students 5 3 6

4 15 Delivery of Learning Materials



11 12

2 16

Evaluation 18 19



Students’ Portfolio

14 1

Learning Sources




21 Class Administrator


Figure 1: The Architecture Model for a Networked Virtual Classroom Source: JITI, 2003 Target Learners The target learners for the Networked Virtual Classroom may come from different sectors within a community or other countries and locations. The learners usually includes the working individuals that has limited time going to school for classes or has been assigned in another location for some longterm projects but wishes to pursue a master’s degree (De Salvo, A. 2002); the single parents who wishes to pursue their educational learning but could no longer afford to spend extra time on travelling; businessmen; married couples; and those children and adults with physical motor dysfunction and has difficulty in walking. Characteristics of Target Learners Distance learning is definitely not for everyone. People who have been successful with the use of a Networked Virtual Classroom have certain characteristics that mobilize them in thriving with the use of a virtual environment. Distance learners are self motivated learners (Schmidt, E. & Gallegos, A. 2001). These are the people who are able to perform their work well without the need of a close supervision by the mentor and are capable of managing their time well. The use of a distant learning facility does not take attendance or record tardiness in class. Distant learners need to do their learning activities without having the mentor telling them to do their homework. Self discipline is critical. These types of learners have the ability to learn mostly through reading skills (Perrin, D. et al., 2006). A high level of reading comprehension is very important since the most of the Networked Virtual Classroom uses written materials although some offers the use of a video and audio technology to enhance the learners’ learning process.


Distance learners are good at pacing themselves by keeping their long-term goals in mind (Perrin, D. et al., 2006).In order for them to achieve a good remark, learners are free to work at their own pace but they should avoid cramming at the last minute for exams. The learner should be comfortable with the use of information technology in order to adapt with the necessary requirements in completing the learning tasks. Lastly, the learners should prioritize well. In order to be successful in this type of education, they should place learning and studying in their top priority. It could mean that these people must sacrifice social events such as dinner with friends, families, and relatives. Role of Target Learners Distance learners should spend at least 12 – 16 hours a week or depending on the learning capacity of each learner when going through intensive reading, online interaction, and communication. Fast learners could spend lesser time online as compared with a slow learner. Students are responsible in checking the class site almost everyday in order to keep up with the messages coming from the class administrator and the mentor. Since each learner will be getting their lectures in a form of reading material and viewing video, each student is required to involve more reading and viewing time. Role of Instructor / Mentor The role of a mentor in a distance learning process includes earning the trust of the learner, orient the learner with the use of virtual learning environment, motivate and encourage the learner to perform well by using simple praises for job well done, and challenging the students upon ending the course enrolled (Carole, H., 2002). Mentors should first earn the trust of the learner by developing a good rapport with the student. Building the learners’ trust is critical since it will serve as the learning foundation between the mentor and the student. Once the trust between the mentor and the learner has already been established, the mentor will start focusing on getting the learner familiarized with the use of the virtual environment such as learning to participate in the thread discussions, how to use the assignment drop box, or how to use other modes of e-mail, troubleshoot, etc. The mentor will proceed to the teaching plans and goals as soon as the learner is ready. At this point, the mentor should start motivating the learner throughout the entire course. During the learning phase, the mentor is responsible in providing a further learning guidance and explanation based on the evaluation of the student’s performance. The mentor should provide a quick feedback to the learners in order to avoid breaking the momentum in learning. Prior to ending the learning period, the mentor should challenge their learners to apply what they have learned into reality. Mentors should perform their tasks well because they will be evaluated by their lead faculty and students using online surveys and a random telephone interviews, etc. Distance Learning Activities There are a lot of different strategies that can be used when teaching online. Some of the web-based activity includes: satellite teleconferences, videoconferencing courses, electronic field trips, debates and discussions, practice testing, simulations, case studies, etc. (Lamb, A. , 2004) The satellite teleconferences enables the mentor and the learner to communicate using a satellite teleconferences. The use of this technology allows the learner to have a better understanding with regards to the lectures and other related inquiries. This technology enables the mentor to fully explain each detail the learner has to know. The videoconferencing courses are similar with the teleconferencing technology except that this one uses a video to allow the learner and the mentor to view each other during each learning session. The electronic field trips is created to allow the learner to explore places or environment that are too far, too big, and dangerous to go to. This allows the mentor to share some photos or scenarios which would aid the learners’ understanding on the subject.


The case study includes the invented or real situation about the subject matter. The learners will be asked to analyze the situation in the case and come up with a conclusion using the knowledge and frameworks that was taught in one of the lessons provided. This will ensure that the learner has the appropriate skills in applying the basic knowledge into a real scenario. The learner could interact with other learners in a form of debates and discussions. This form of evaluation will enable the learner to explore their personal ideas about the subject matter they have learned in the process. The Case Study, Practice Testing and Simulations are also another form of evaluation. Materials Presented According to Baird et al. (1990), the combination of a cognitive and affective approach in teaching is the best way in attaining a successful teaching and learning. (Baird, J.R. et al., 1990) (See Figure 2 – Representation of the Relationship between Cognitive Demand and Affective Interest on page11) Humans have separate channels that process visual and auditory information and are capable of processing a limited amount of information at one time (Pomales-Garcia, P. & Liu, Y., 2006). In line with this matter; the multimedia is widely used in distance learning and educational technology. As defined by Mayer (2001), the multimedia is a presentation that uses materials with both words and pictures. The words in verbal form include printed or spoken text. The pictures used could be in a form of graphs, photos, maps, illustrations, or dynamic graphics with animation and video capabilities. Sometimes, a combination of audio, video, Power Point slides of text and different pictures are used in multimedia. High Interest

Lack of Challenge

Desirable Balance between Cognition and Affective Components

Low Demand

High Demand

Failure to Engage

Limited Student Involvement and the External Pressure to Comply

Low Interest Figure 2: Representation of the Relationship between Cognitive Demand and Affective Interest Source: Baird et al., 1990 STRENGTH AND WEAKNESSES OF USING THE INFORMATION AND COMMUNCATION TECHNOLOGY IN DISTANCE LEARNING Using the information and communication technology in distance learning has its strength and weaknesses. The continuous development with the technology has resulted to an increase in the success rate of individuals who are enrolled under distance learning schools. The barriers of having to travel when going to the school premises has totally removed with through distance learning.


Aside from the learners benefit of studying under his own pacing enables the learner to pay close attention to his career while pursuing a higher degree on education. It also enables a real-time learning and communication with the mentor. The real-time communication enables the learner to get immediate responses with regards to some problems that pertains to the lecture. The system has its own weaknesses. Distance learning is definitely not designed for everybody because it requires a specific behavioral qualifications and skills. Individuals who do not have a strong discipline when it comes to time management would likely not succeed with this kind of education system. Also, not all individuals have a high standard when it comes to reading comprehension and the use of high technology. Both factors could result to failure in the learning process of the student. Despite the comfort it brings to many distant learners, this learning system is highly dependable on the use of information and communication technology. Once the technology is under repair, the learners and the mentors will have a serious problem coping with the lectures. Table I: Strength and Weaknesses of Using the Information Technology in Distance Learning Strength Increases the success rate of distance learning Enables a real-time learning process Enables higher learning to working individuals and single parents

Weaknesses Not designed for everyone Requires the Learner to have a specific behavioural qualifications Not useable when the technology is network system or internet connection is under repair

CONCLUSION The demand for the application of the information technology on the educational system is gradually increasing over time. The Networked Virtual Classroom is specifically designed for the benefit of distance learning. The continuous development in the information and communication technology enables a better distance learning with the use of teleconferences and videoconferences. These are some of the basic tools that are widely used today in order to enhance the success rate of distance learning. The use of distance learning is simply not applicable to all individuals since it takes a strong discipline and a high level of reading skills in order to be successful in this type of educational system. Over time, changes in the information and communication technology are becoming very uncontrolled. Therefore, a continuous application of the information and communication technology is necessary in order to enhance the development and use of the distance learning.


Appendix I: Data Flow Process Link No. 1 2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 & 10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20 21

Functions / Description The mentor sends a searching request to the delivery system for a specific learning material. Delivery system sends responses or feedback to the mentor regarding the type of learning materials found. Forwards the multimedia learning materials to the student’s process. Allows the student to request for additional learning materials through the delivery system. Allows the student to forward the answered questionnaires to the evaluation process to record and register the student’s activities regarding the use of the learning materials as well as the student’s participation in the learning activity. Enables the evaluation process to provide a prompt feedback coming regarding the evaluation of his performances. Enables mentor to receive a feedback coming from the class administrator regarding the student’s performance Enables the mentor to request students’ information coming from the class administrator. Responsible in supporting the communication between the mentor and the student. This is made possible through a synchronous and/or asynchronous method. Enables a direct feedback coming from the class administrator to the student related to administrative and other technical matters. Enables the student to directly access to the administrator regarding some administrative, operating problems and other concerns such as the payment, etc. Enables the mentor to detect information within the evaluation system related to his student-learning performances and the provided learning procedures. Provides feedback to the mentor regarding his inquiries on the student’s learning progress. A stand-alone link between the ‘delivery of learning materials’ and ‘evaluation processes’. It allows the delivery system to send information related to the content of the learning material that is necessary for the evaluation of student’s performance. Enables the retrieval of the multimedia learning materials. Enables an access to the students and mentors to locate a learning material. Makes the evaluation system capable of storing all data regarding the student’s learning patterns and behaviour in the student’s portfolio. Offers the system the capability of retrieving information coming from the student’s portfolio for evaluation Enables the system to keep an updates on the student’s portfolio with information related to the course administrative data. Sends the student’s portfolio to the class administrator.


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The Design and Implementation of a Networked Technology For Open & Distance Learning