“Selecting technology is perhaps the easiest part of developing a flexible delivery program. Most educational organisations can find one or more educational technologies they can readily adapt and adopt. However, when educational organisations enter the increasingly competitive race for new students, two areas often receive little attention - policy development and planning. Soon they have flexibly delivered courses in place while their unprepared educators find themselves in legal, academic, fiscal, logistical and union controversies. "Regardless of the delivery system…the technology often precedes planning and policy development" (C.E.T.U.S., 1997, p. 7). Clearly, advanced policy deliberation and development is essential to the success of distance learning programs and their students.”
Barbara Gellman-Danley and Marie J. Fetzner
Think about these fundamental questions in relation to flexible delivery organisations:
- How do decision makers identify and deal with the growing number of policy issues related to flexible learning?
- How do educational managers plan for the present and the future in a time of constant change?
- How do institutions create a robust and proactive decision-making environment around flexible learning?
The answer to these questions can be found in the way a flexible learning organisation develops policy. There are many policy frameworks; some very complex and others relatively simple. [Refer to Gellman-Danley and Fetzner (1998), Berge (1998) and, King, Nugent, Russell, and Lacy (1999)]
In short, flexible learning organisations need policies that address the following areas:
- course approvals
- calendar and course offerings
- educational quality
- course evaluation
- entry requirements
- educational staff qualifications
- educational technology requirements
- administration cost
- government funding
- commercial funding, facilities
- professional development
- quality assurance
- performance management
- class monitoring
- class support
- equipment/resource allocation
- interdepartmental collaboration
- multi-institutional consortia
- intellectual property
- student liability
- institutional liability
Student support services
- library services
- learning resource availability
- student records
- computer accounts
- financial aid
- systems reliability
- account setup concerns
- technical support
- adoption of innovations
- encouragement and support for innovation and experimentation
- organisational values
These key areas suggest places where policy may be used as an intervention to ensure the continued quality of the status quo, as well as make and manage change for the future. They can also be used as the framework to identify and inventory areas of strengths and weaknesses in existing policies.
Developing policies in areas where weaknesses are found is the surest way to help assure that transition from near-randomly offered courses to full-fledged distance flexible delivery programs. Sound policies should lead to and support sound programs.
In most organisations, current policies have been developed around the traditional structure of a teaching/training organisation with classroom and group delivery being the typical mode. Their challenge is to either adapt current policies so they accommodate, support and encourage flexible delivery, or to rewrite current policies assuming flexible delivery is the norm or at least of equal standing to the existing mode.
The starting point is to do a policy audit to establish the extent to which existing policies assume flexible delivery to be ‘normal’. The further they are from this assumption, the more likely it is that the policies need to be completely rewritten rather than simply adjusted. This audit will also identify where policies are completely missing.
The overall message is this… until organisational policies assume flexible delivery to be the norm, flexible delivery will remain marginalised. Policy is what differentiates a flexible learning organisation from an organisation that does flexible delivery.
Berge, Z.L. 1998. Barriers to Online Teaching in Post-Secondary Institutions: Can Policy Changes Fix It? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 1(2).(2/24/99)
Gellman-Danley, B. and Fetzner, M.J. 1998. Asking the Really Tough Questions: Policy Issues for Distance Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 1(1). ( (2/24/99)
King, J.W., Nugent, G.C., Russell, E. B., and Lacy, D. 1999. Distance Education Policy in Post-Secondary Education: Nebraska as a Case Study. In Proceedings: 15th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. University of Wisconsin, Madision. 275-281.