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Technology, continuing education and open learning or
Technology 1 - Bureaucracy 0

John G Hedberg
University of New South Wales

With the interest in new forms of delivery of staff development and training, there has been an increased interest in the use of self-study and open learning methods in continuing education. With the rationalisation of higher education proposed in the Australian Government's White Paper, the provision of new courseware has been identified as being the province of only a few institutions. This paper examines the development and needs of this area and in particular, the advantages of using technology to prepare open learning and continuing education materials without the need for large bureaucratic infrastructures. It looks at the software and hardware available for this activity. The paper presents arguments to support the idea that computer technology has enabled individual designers of materials to operate without expensive infrastructures.

In higher education we are presented with some interesting challenges as we reorganise our operations in line with government policy directives. The advent of the White Paper on higher education has suggested some restructuring and some rationalisation of the use of technologies in the provision of educational delivery and external studies in particular. In this context of change and increasing control over educational processes from Canberra, it is interesting to examine government policy as it relates to the development of technological capability.

The emphasis on printed materials

Over the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the number of institutions which are offering courses of study through distance education. Some of those institutions have adopted the models of leading distance education providers such as the Open University in Great Britain. The move into distance education delivery of courses has required many institutions to spend money on staff and in some cases, technologies for the delivery of their courses. The choices that one considered ten years ago for the delivery of education in external studies have largely remained unchanged in a time of rapid technological development, especially in computer based technologies. Even today most provision of distance learning materials rely on print and to a lesser extent audio or video supplementation. There have been some notable experiments with the use of computer based testing and some use of bulletin boards to deliver information to students. However, most of the effort has focussed on improving the printed product and improving the design which is presented by that product. This has meant that staff have been employed as instructional designers mainly focussed on print and there has been an increase in the use of printing technologies to deliver this form of product.

The rise of desk top publishing

In the last three years there has been an upsurge in the use of computer technology to replace many of the traditional ways of tackling the printed word. With the advent of the Macintosh and the availability of desktop publishing and graphics production programs we have seen a rise in quality and quantities of output. At the same time as individuals have increased their use of this technology, there has been the progressive reduction of staff required for the production of quality materials. Nowadays, especially with small production runs, materials can be developed using word processing software and graphics design using graphics packages. The result can be combined into very readable and well presented pages with the minimum of specialised staff. The key players are in fact the computer, the content specialist(s) and the instructional designer. It is the combination of these three elements that has the major impact on the design and delivery of distance learning materials.

At this point I can imagine that many graphic artists will complain that their work has been very important in the delivery of instruction. I do not underestimate the impact of very good graphic design and layout on the reception of learning materials, however, as we move progressively to the era of templates, a design decision can be made and the remaining task of laying out the material can be left to a typist. There are increasing skills involved in the preparation of printed materials at a level of typist/graphics composer/page layout compositor. The main player in this rework of tasks and roles has been the microcomputer. The availability and accessibility of this particular technology has enabled individuals to work directly with the material which is going to be used in the teaching process. The immediacy and closeness with which individual authors can work on their material has meant that the centralised bureaucracy, set up to handle course production, can in fact be antagonistic to the technology and the way in which people approach technologies.

Proposed "rationalisation" of distance centres - the best solution?

In the planning for the 1990s, higher education institutions are going to be constrained to a smaller number of institutions which can offer distance education courses. The assumptions as outlined in the white paper rely mainly upon the reduction of overlap, the reduction of resources required to produce courses and the marshalling of centralised groups of expertise. In the preceding argument I hope I have indicated that there are alternative models and models that are related more directly to the way in which people operate on a practical day to day level.

There is the possibility, in New South Wales for example, that distance education provision will occur outside the Sydney metropolitan area. There are four major providers currently offering external and distance education programs and the number is likely to be reduced to two. Already the one provider operating within the Sydney metropolitan area has been told that they are not to continue and that the remaining competition exists within three country centres. There seems to be a basic illogicality in assuming that that is the final solution to this particular problem. The major research subject matter expertise lies within a number of institutions which are all outside and over 100 km distant from the nearest proposed distance education centre. If we can expect an increase in individual authorship linked with professional instructional design expertise and a good typist and a computer, then it would be foolish to believe that all the production of materials will be transferred across the great dividing range.

Propinquity is a major factor in achieving a product. The fact that the subject matter expertise, the design expertise and a computer are within walking distance of each other will help the production of materials in ways not envisaged in the centralised bureaucracies of distance education centres. And it is in this assumption that the White Paper, while looking at the rationalisation, has failed to address the real issue. The real issues are in fact: 'what courses should be offered ?' 'who should write them ?' and 'how should they be managed?' To link course production and course management is not a necessary relationship - it might be useful but it is not the only model that might be employed. In fact if Australia were ever to establish an Open University then one distance education centre might take on the total management role for the whole of Australia. At this level some economies of scale and management might be achieved.

However, it is very unlikely that any economies can be achieved without a coordinated curriculum authority, particularly if five or six institutions are still operating largely independently and without appropriate exchange of courses and planning.

Changing subject matter

Another major constraint on existing models of distance education provision has been the need to develop open learning materials in areas where the subject matter is relatively fixed. However, areas such as the law and tax are subject to constant change and since many of the existing models for open learning materials cannot cope with frequent revisions, efficient course material provision suffers in consequence. It is in these areas that changes must occur if distance learning materials are to be seen as credible and if they are to serve the purpose of professional development.

Many organisations who must manage the production of open learning materials operate on the just in time method for their generation. The cost of inventories, the complexity of multimedia storage and the deterioration of electronic media with poor storage and time has meant that many packages are produced on demand. These factors do not necessarily require a centralised production source. Most reasonably large organisations already possess the infrastructure to produce materials without the need for further bureaucratic centralisation.

These arguments contradict the notion that a centralised bureaucracy is an obligatory requirement for course production. In fact, the notion is generally antagonistic to trends of development in information technology and the way in which people adapt and implement new technology.

Hardware and software technologies for the task

The use of technology, especially the development of print based technologies within higher education, is still largely in its infancy. Within the higher education institutions very rarely do we see a coordinated integrated approach to the production of written teaching materials upon which most of our institutions so heavily depend. How many computer systems have been networked to share the use of their resources between different groups on campus? How often has the money been spent on providing additional workstations rather than providing separate printers attached to each particular microcomputer? How have people integrated the use of technology into their normal operating procedures? How often does a manager of an academic development project rethink the total system so that the microcomputer is not a simple replacement for the old electric typewriter but in fact enforces the total work and information flow of the department to be rethought, recast and simplified, improved or modified? It is these questions that will determine the future operations of technology within such things as the distance educational enterprise.

If the tasks required of the authors and designers are listed then there are a number of computer programs which might support my contention that it can all occur with very few personnel. This list is biased towards the Macintosh environment but there are many equivalents also available for the IBM style systems. Consider for instance,

Word processingprograms to prepare basic textual materials - the content could be delivered either as hard copy or conceivably on floppy disk. The relative costs for distribution are about the same for around 100 pages and may favour the disk in quantities beyond that. Many word processing programs also allow graphics to be inserted into the text, thereby allowing for the presentation of ideas visually with explanations.
Graphics programscan now present the same ideas as multiple overhead transparencies. Consider MacDraw II which allows a series of layers which can be overlaid on the basic graphic. By distributing the template then the student can manipulate the different levels and hence learn the relationship between the concepts presented.
Page layoutprograms can present relationships between graphics and words, these might be presented by disk or hard copy. Have you thought about presenting a structure in a page layout template? The student could return the completed template on disk or more simply just print out the reply pages and return those through the mail or even download them onto a bulletin board.
Graphics templatescan simplify the layout process for the authors and designers. Once a template has been generated linen the content can be placed into the prepared design.
Project Management Packagesare available (eg. MacProject II) to simplify the standard processes which the design might flow through. These can be used as a checklist for production and monitor the progress of the development.
Communications softwarecan enable any computer to become a bulletin board and hence be left on to receive information from student and instructor, or even between students in a class.
Authoring softwarePresentation of ideas can also be made using standard CBT authoring software (eg. Course of Action). Specific instructional sequences can be presented by computer to explain difficult sequences. This type of software has available sound and vision including animation to present the concepts. Presentation could include digitised sound description with annotated graphics if the concept so requires.
Visual presentation software(eg. Videoworks II) can replace the need for complex video production. A simple concept presentation can be prepared in this software and later included in a course presentation in the authoring system or simply used to present a visual single concept.
Student feedbackcan be achieved through all different software packages. A file in Excel, MS Word, or MacPaint will all enable the student to present ideas and concepts, analyse results and generate theoretical relationships.
Spreadsheets and databasesOther packages such as spreadsheets and databases can fill out the complete range ~ possible packages which can help in both student record management and manipulation of concepts from numbers to graphical representation.

This scenario might sound expensive and beyond the current capability of open education. But already, the planning for Bond University includes a Macintosh on each student's desk, direct links into the information systems nationally and internationally. A library does not always have to hold all the materials if they can be provided quickly through data links, CD-ROM and other large storage devices which are growing in popularity. A sensible hardware system to handle all the above communication and software links can be envisaged to cost around $6,000 for the Computer with 20 MByte hard disk, Dot matrix printer and Modem. Student station and instructor development station would be approximately the same, the major difference would be in the price of the software used in the system.


In the generation of learning materials, computer technology has completely changed the primary basis for delivery. As this system further expands and its use in higher education becomes more available to individuals working on their own area and in their own way, then the technology and the mode of operation will circumvent the proposed bureaucratic structures of operating external and distance education programs. The mood in industry is to take the best materials and deliver them to personnel at the workplace at a time that is appropriate and within the constraints of progressively increasing training costs. This approach provides an interesting challenge to distance education/open learning course provision. The cost of purchasing self study open learning materials as a portion of the organisation's training budget is considerably less than the cost, time lost, travel, accommodation and support for individual members to attend conferences and workshops. As industry progressively gears up to undertake more training at the time when personnel require it, it is interesting to look at the entrepreneurial author as he or she employs the technology to meet a product and time deadline that any bureaucratic system would find unworkable.


Dawkins, J. S. (1988). Higher education: A policy statement. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

White, M. A. (1986). The future of education and the technologies. Paper presented to the Florida Instructional Computing Conference, Orlando, Florida.

Please cite as: Hedberg, J. G. (1988). Technology, continuing education and open learning or Technology 1 - Bureaucracy 0. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 90-94. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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