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Systematic design and development for open learning using self instructional materials

Rachel Hudson


This paper is aimed at organisations, whether in industry, retail, banking, agriculture or any other field, which have decided to use open learning for the first time. The paper provides a basic introduction to the various stages such organisations would go through in order to develop an open learning scheme using self instructional materials. It also provides examples of the infrastructure which has developed in the UK to help organisations planning to use open learning.

In this paper the term open learning package refers to a combination, or package, of self instructional materials and tutorial support. The term open learning scheme refers to all the elements of an open learning course, including relevant materials, tutorial support, management, marketing and administrative systems.

The paper introduces a model for the systematic design and development of an open learning scheme using self instructional materials and then looks at each of the stages in the model in greater detail. The model explores two routes which an organisation might follow when developing an open learning scheme using self instructional materials. These are

Whichever route is followed, it is necessary for the organisation to acquire open learning skills in order to ensure the quality and effectiveness of its training. Examples of the ways in which these skills can be obtained in the UK are given in the paper. The paper also discusses the value of an infrastructure to help an organisation identify relevant off the shelf open learning packages, and to find consultants and specialist services to help with the design of open learning schemes. The kind of infrastructure which may develop is illustrated with examples from the UK.

Why open learning?

Open learning is often referred to as flexible learning. This term is perhaps more useful since there has been a tendency for the term open learning to be seen by some as synonymous with self instructional materials and by others to be a more up to date term for correspondence course. Open learning is really about opening doors to learning and improving access to training by whatever methods are the most appropriate. Open learning schemes tend to use self instructional materials because these provide the flexibility to enable the course to be accessible to trainees in a wide range of situations and of a wide range of abilities.

Examples of the many benefits of open learning are listed below. Open learning schemes

Open learning, using self instructional materials, is available to an organisation in three ways. Figure 1 is concerned with the last two options. It offers a systematic approach to the design of an open learning scheme by either method. The model is aimed at organisations needing to train their own workforce and the more detailed description which follows is aimed directly at such organisations.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Developing an open learning scheme using self instructional materials

Analysis, planning and management

In order to ensure the quality and effectiveness of your open learning scheme it is important that all aspects should be planned systematically before work starts on the materials themselves. This does not mean that the plans cannot be modified once you start to put them into practice. Figure 1 indicates the main elements which need planning. As they are all interdependent, each element will need to be modified in the light of the others.

When analysing the situation, a variety of factors need to be taken into account. For example, these may include the politics within your organisation, the target audience, the budget, results of any training needs analysis, and whether self instructional materials are appropriate at all.

A plan for all the stages of the scheme should be drawn up at this point, and after careful research, a decision made as to whether an existing course or package can be used or whether you have to do all the hard work yourself. The planning stage must involve management decisions about allocation of resources such as budgets, equipment, storage space and staff. Responsibility must be taken for evaluating the scheme. Plans should take into account any weaknesses in the scheme. For example, it may be necessary to organise an open learning promotion within your organisation since without the active support of the potential trainees and tutors the scheme will not succeed.

Objectives and assessment

These are crucial to all types of training. Objectives are short sentences stating what the trainee will be able to do at the end of the training. Objectives are particularly valuable in open learning, since they provide the trainee with clear information about the purpose of the training and make it easier to design relevant training activities. Assessment of the trainees should be based on their ability to perform the training objectives, so it is sensible to design the assessment at the same time as developing the objectives.

Select existing package, adapt if necessary

It is never worth reinventing the wheel, so it is much more cost effective to seek out existing packages and schemes rather than to develop an open learning scheme from scratch. In the UK a wide range of organisations produce open learning packages for sale and it is a matter of sifting through to see which best meet your training needs. The starting point should be matching your organisation's training objectives with the package objectives. If the match is only partial, then the next step is to consider adapting the package or at least using the relevant parts. Package evaluation and adaptation should be systematic.

The features to look for when evaluating an open learning package are covered later in this paper. When selecting an off the shelf package it is important to determine exactly what additional tutor support and administrative arrangements you will need to provide. Even though you have bought the package rather than developed it yourself, it is important to evaluate the whole open learning scheme, and to ensure that the final assessment is designed to match your organisation's objectives. Later in this paper we will look at the infrastructure which has developed in the UK to help with all stages of selecting and adapting a package.

Design and develop your own package

If no suitable off the shelf package exists, then the solution is to design your own package. Few organisations have all the skills and resources in house to do this, so that in the UK an infrastructure has developed either to help them, or to do this for them. Examples will be given later in this paper.

In order to design your own package you will need to make decisions about content, methods and media. These should be linked to the achievement of the objectives. Once these decisions have been made the development process involves

All the elements involved in the development process listed above interrelate and do not form a linear sequence. Editing is crucial in the development of packages and should take place several times, both before and after the piloting and validation process. The visual appearance of the materials is important in open learning packages because it improves clarity and motivation. For this reason the overall page design and artwork should be planned before work starts on the authoring and drafting. The features of an open learning package are looked at later in this paper.

Piloting and validation

All materials, whether bought off the shelf or developed especially for your organisation, should be piloted with the actual trainees as part of the validation process. Piloting can save you a great deal of money. All aspects should be looked at, not just accuracy, since a package may fail simply because it is boring. Outside experts as well as the users themselves should be consulted. Note that not all off the shelf packages will have been validated by their producers, which means they cannot guarantee the achievement of their objectives.


Whether you have bought a package or developed your own, your organisation will need to establish an administrative system for its open learning scheme. Depending on the complexity of your scheme, your organisation may need to appoint a new member of staff to administer it. The administrator should arrange storage facilities for the open learning materials, set up and maintain the equivalent of a lending library, keep records of students' progress, arrange tutorials, maintain a booking system for equipment, answer simple queries about the open learning scheme, and perhaps promote it, and make the practical arrangements for certification if the scheme leads to a qualification.

Support and tutoring

Even if your organisation buys an off the shelf open learning package with essential tutorial support provided, additional in house support for your trainees will be needed. If you are designing all the elements of your scheme yourself, then your organisation will have to supply all the necessary tutoring and support. Tutors and mentors can be any member of your staff and will need to be suitably trained to carry out their roles. Tutoring and support involves


The success of the scheme will be dependent on the support of everyone in your organisation, whether managers, supervisors, or trainees. This may mean that you need to promote the scheme internally from the start. The cost of developing your own packages can be offset by selling them to others. In the UK some big companies have even diversified into the open learning business. A decision to market the packages externally should be made in the initial planning stages, since this will have several developmental implications. The packaging and image of the materials will also be important.


Responsibility for managing the evaluation should be allocated at the planning stage. Resources such as a budget and staff time should also be agreed. It is necessary to plan the evaluation early on since data needs to be collected at all stages of the scheme. All elements of the open learning scheme need evaluating, including the costs involved, results of the final assessments, level of takeup, tutoring and administration. It is important to act upon the evaluation results! Since the scheme is likely to be repeated, the evaluation should not be seen as a once off operation and the scheme should be modified continuously.

Features of an open learning package

When examining existing packages to see if they are suitable for your organisation it is necessary not only to match its objectives with your own, but also to look at how well the package is designed. This section of the paper lists the main features that should be found in a well designed open learning package. If your organisation decides to design its own packages then you should ensure that all these features are incorporated.

Training the trainer

Before embarking on the development of an open learning scheme your organisation should invest in some skills itself if at all possible. Generally the quality of the open learning scheme will depend on the existence of these skills. Even if your organisation buys an off the shelf package, it will still need to be able to draw up and compare objectives, validate the materials, assess the students, evaluate the scheme, provide tutorial support and guidance and administer the scheme. In addition, your organisation may need to adapt an off the shelf package, or if no suitable package exists, to manage and edit a package being developed specifically for your own training objectives. Whatever the development process, your organisation will need to promote the scheme to its various members.

In the UK an infrastructure has developed to train trainers in skills relevant to developing and running open learning schemes. The main sources of help are

In addition various publications and organisations exist to help training officers keep abreast of developments in open learning and to help them locate the most suitable means of obtaining open learning skills. The list above goes into some detail, partly because many of the organisations will be referred to several times in this paper, and partly because such an infrastructure could easily develop in Australia. An infrastructure is necessary to help trainers gain the new skills that they need in open learning.

Help in selecting an open learning package

Not all open learning packages on the market are well designed, nor do they all include the necessary support. It is difficult to predict what will happen in Australia, but in the UK a wide range of organisations produce open learning packages and it has become quite a competitive industry.

Organisations producing open learning packages in the UK include Open University, National Extension College, Open College, Open Techs (eg Highways Open Tech specialising in highways construction), industrial training boards (eg Road Transport Industry Training Board), television stations (eg BBC Enterprises), management colleges (eg Henley Distance Learning), training departments of large corporations (eg ICI), private individuals and small training companies, educational publishing companies, correspondence colleges (eg Pitman Tutorial College), polytechnic and university departments, and computer companies.

It is very difficult for organisations to identify suitable packages to meet their training needs without help. It is not sufficient to rely on the producer's publicity, especially since open learning may become quite competitive as in the UK. When selecting an existing package, it is necessary to consider the reputation and relevant experience of the producer, but not all organisations are familiar with the various package producers.

Information in such publications as the Open Learning Directory or in the MARIS database are essential to help organisations identify what is on the market. But the packages still need to be inspected and evaluated. In the UK this can be arranged at an Open Learning Delivery Centre. There are delivery centres throughout the UK, many with additional access points in their region. They have a wide range of open learning packages available both for inspection and for sale. Not only will delivery centres help identify an appropriate package, they will also help evaluate and adapt it as necessary. Many delivery centres are able to help an organisation design its entire open learning scheme. Some offer tutorial support and study guidance, depending on the package selected.

Help with developing a package for your own organisation

Some organisations develop all their own open learning materials, and a few, eg ICI, then market them externally. It is not essential to have a large training department in order to develop an open learning scheme and relevant materials without external help. For example, the Law Centres Federation in the UK had one training officer who worked with the help of volunteers and was able to develop an open learning scheme to train the management committees of 56 law centres scattered throughout the country. However, it is essential to invest in all the necessary skills before starting. The section on Training the Trainer has explained how such skills can be obtained.

Most organisations will need to use outside consultants to help them develop and produce an open learning package designed especially to meet their training needs. Even when using outside consultants, the best way to ensure the quality of the final open learning scheme is to have as many open learning skills as possible in house. It is important to find out the track record of any consultant organisation that you employ. The consultants should have experience in designing and developing all aspects of open learning schemes, even if your organisation does not need the full service. They should adopt a systematic approach to the process similar to the one outlined earlier in this paper. Beware the consultants who offer particular media such as computer based training as the solution on the first meeting. Check that package validation and general evaluation will be built into the scheme.

UK organisations offering consultancy services in the design and development of open learning packages and schemes include National Extension College, Open Learning Delivery Centres, Open University's Educational Technology Department, and Training Support Services. OTSU Limited (Open Tech Support Unit), originally set up to provide consultancy to open techs themselves, has developed a network of consultants throughout the UK which will help any organisation develop and implement open learning systems. Consultants have a proven track record before being included on OTSU's list. Various private training companies and a range of freelance open learning consultants also provide services.

To summarise, although it takes a great deal of work to develop an open learning package specifically for your own organisation, most of this work can be carried out by outside consultants. It is best to obtain as many skills as you can in house in order to ensure the quality of the final scheme. The consultants should adopt a systematic approach to the design of your package similar to the one outlined earlier in this paper.


Open learning, using self instructional materials, has much to offer any organisation as a flexible means of training its staff. It may prove to be a cheaper method than more traditional means, and because of the greater planning involved should always prove to be an effective method. Since this is the case, it is likely to become increasingly popular in Australia, just as it has in the UK.

In order to be effective, all open learning packages and schemes need to be developed systematically. This can only be achieved if trainers in any organisation considering open learning receive training in relevant design and delivery skills. Even if they do not undertake much of the work themselves, this should help to ensure that they can control the quality of work carried out on their behalf.

Organisations also need help to guide them to the most relevant open learning package to meet their needs. They need help to evaluate and adapt existing packages or if necessary to develop new ones. Many will need help to develop their entire open learning scheme, including the administrative and support systems.

Western Australia needs to consider how it will ensure the quality of the open learning packages likely to appear on the market, how it will train the trainers in open learning skills, how it will help organisations select existing packages, and how it will help organisations develop their own high quality open learning schemes.


All these publications were published by either the Manpower Services Commission, UK, (MSC) or the Training Agency, UK. Note that these are in effect the same publisher, since the MSC recently reformed as the Training Agency. Any publication published by the MSC can now be obtained from the Training Agency, Sheffield, UK. Items which are asterisked are recommended further reading.

*Manpower Services Commission. (1988). Ensuring quality in open learning: A handbook for action. Sheffield, UK: Manpower Services Commission.

Manpower Services Commission. (1988). Open learning directory 1988/89. Sheffield, UK: Manpower Services Commission. (*The current edition is published by the Training Agency, Sheffield, UK).

* Manpower Services Commission. (1986). Support for open learning. Sheffield, UK: Manpower Services Commission.

*Trainer Development Section of the Manpower Services Commission. (1985). Open learning toolkit: A development aid for managers of open learning schemes. Cambridge, UK: National Extension College.

*Training Agency. (1989). Standards of performance for open learning staff: An interim framework. Sheffield, UK: Training Agency.

Training Agency. (1988). Towards an open learning strategy. Spotlight, 7. Sheffield, UK: Training Agency. (article reporting on speech by Kevin Whitehead, head of Training Agency Learning Systems and Access Branch).

Twining, J. (1984). Getting Started. Section 8 in Open Tech Programme: Concepts and strategies. Open Tech Paper No 3, Sheffield, UK: Manpower Services Commission.

Author: Rachel Hudson has recently emigrated to Australia from the United Kingdom. She has a postgraduate diploma in educational technology and has specialised in open and distance learning for several years. Whilst working as the Training Officer for the Law Centres Federation she developed a distance education course for the management committees of law centres throughout the UK. Most recently she has worked on a freelance basis for the National Extension College, transforming texts by subject matter experts into open learning materials.

Please cite as: Hudson, R. (1990). Systematic design and development for open learning using self instructional materials. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 218-229. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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