28 September 2014
This review is of the role of face to face (f2f) study in distance education and comprises an international review with a set of case studies. The basic findings are as below.
F2f teaching survives in many distance institutions. It is actually a compulsory element in some well-known institutions.
F2f is usually part of a blended teaching approach. F2f teaching is often part of a ‘blended teaching’ approach in which exclusively online teaching is combined with email, phone, f2f and other forms of teaching.
Blended teaching has a very positive student retention effect. There is good evidence that blended teaching has a substantial retention effect over exclusively online teaching.
It is not clear what part of blended teaching is most effective. There is very little evidence as to which particular forms of blended teaching are the most effective either in retention or cost benefit terms. The report notes that there is evidence that certain blended teaching activities using the phone have been shown to not only have a clear retention effect, but also to have a positive cost-benefit effect with a return on investment of several hundred percent. But there is little research into the cost-benefits of f2f teaching specifically.
Blended teaching is particularly important at the beginning of a course. Whatever forms of blended teaching are used the evidence clearly suggests that it should be focused very specifically at the earliest possible stage of a course, and that it is particularly successful at enhancing social integration and overcoming initial anxiety.
It is important to maintain different forms of blended teaching including f2f teaching. Different students may find different types of teaching helpful at different stages. So it is probably important to use the different types of blended teaching to reach all types of student.
Younger students in the so-called ‘Google generation’ do not necessarily have a high level of skills in online learning. It is important not to make overly optimistic assumptions about the ability of especially younger students to study entirely online. They are likely to need some form of blended teaching to survive.
Face to face teaching in Distance Education - a literature and case study review
A feature of of distance education is the enduring survival of face-to-face (f2f) teaching despite the increasing use of e-teaching systems1. This appears to be true, not only of dual-mode universities (where distance education is an addition to on-campus face-to-face provision) but also of single mode universities (which operate entirely by distance methods). What explains this survival and is it likely to continue? This review combines a literature survey of f2f teaching in distance education, with case studies of a number of individual distance institutions.
It is helpful to start by examining distance institutions in terms of their incorporation of f2f teaching, and by scrutinising some concerns about student success in distance education with particular respect to the OU.
Groupings of distance institutions. Rumble (1992) divided distance institutions into two basic groups - ‘Single Mode Universities’ (SMUs) who operate entirely at a distance, and Dual Mode Universities (DMU’s) who run both distance and face to face programmes. DMU’s often support their students through ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended teaching’ where students are offered both online and face to face teaching.
Rumble (1992) pointed out the vulnerability of dedicated distance teaching universities to competition from dual mode universities. His argument was that the latter, usually conventional campus-based universities offering opportunities for distance learners to take the same courses as on-campus learners and earn the same qualification, had significant competitive advantages in terms of cost, choice of courses and learner convenience over the dedicated distance learning provider.
Rumble may have been proved right: there are relatively few SMU’s extant and indeed in the last few years a number of start-up SMU’s have closed such as NYU Online, Cardean University, Columbia’s Fathom, the Oxford/Yale/Stanford ‘Allearn’ and, notoriously, the UKeU, many with losses in the million dollar range. However there are still examples of SMU’s such as Athabasca University in Canada and Indira Ghandi National Open University in India (which is apparently moving from a DMU to SMU - see the case studies).
The OU of course tends to fall into an intermediate group of its own, having no on-campus students2 whilst maintaining some f2f teaching, and at the same time as moving substantially into e-teaching using online tutorials. Nevertheless for the moment it is still a ‘blended’ institution.
Student retention in distance education. It is important to contextualise this study with some basic data on the current state of distance education and the OU in particular with especial reference to its record of student retention and success.
Figure 1 shows the overall graduation rates of a number of higher education systems compared with some distance education institutions (Simpson 2013).