Convergence of Distance Education and Conventional Learning: Innovations and Developments at the Open University of Tanzania
Abstract: The Open University of Tanzania (OUT) undertakes instructional delivery using various blended learning media including print, ICTs, electronic platforms, enhanced face to face, special seminars and contact programmes. Initially, it was envisioned that the University will use a low resource teaching package, consisting of offline media. Admittedly, the blending of offline and online learning enhances significantly pedagogical effectiveness of the instructional methodology. Thus, in pursuing its Vision and fulfilling its Mission, a conventional learning institution like the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) subscribes to application of ICTs in the enhancement of academic delivery and management. Meanwhile, the Vision and Mission of both UDSM and OUT bear striking similarities, implying a convergence of distance and conventional learning. Employing desktop and descriptive research methods, the study explores innovations and developments at the OUT in the last two decades, with a view to demonstrating the salient trends of the phenomenon of the convergence, within the context of the three dimensions underlying the process of mainstreaming of distance education. They include the achievement of parity of esteem between conventional and distance education; the convergence of the means of instructional delivery, student groups, and types of institutions and the incorporation of distance education's constituent elements, particularly its philosophy of outreach, into the mainstream education system. The findings of the study show that concerted efforts have been made by both the OUT and UDSM to integrate online media in their instructional methodologies in the last two decades. In the specific case of the OUT, as a result of such innovations, print has been dislodged as the lead medium in distance education delivery. However, in spite of the convergence in instructional delivery, achievement of parity of esteem between conventional and distance education and the integration of distance education's constituent elements into the main education system are still out of sight. The study stresses that while indiscriminate adoption and employment of online learning will eventually undermine the vision and mission of distance education as well as conventional education institutions, careful selection and systematic application of the same will yield better results to both institutions.
Key Words: Blended Learning, Open and Distance Learning, Mainstreaming Distance Education, Lead Medium