Anywhere/Anytime Open University: Analysis of the System

Running head: ANALYSIS of the SYSTEM CONTEXT and NEED
Anywhere/Anytime Open University:
Analysis of the System Context and Need
Cynthia P. Lyons
University of Maryland University College
Anywhere/Anytime Open University: Analysis of the System Context and Need
The Anywhere/Anytime Open University (AAOU) is an institution currently under
design and development. The institution’s mission is as follows (Smith, 2013):
To provide a high quality education to adult learners seeking undergraduate and advanced
degrees at times and places convenient to those learners and in ways that are appropriate
to each subject and that support individual learning styles.
A project team will plan and develop the structure for AAOU using a systems thinking approach.
This paper is the first part in a series of papers that examines fundamental concepts and issues to
consider when building a distance education institution. The purpose of this paper is to focus on
the social contexts surrounding distance education providers and learners; as well as, the factors
which influence distance education (DE). The first section of this document defines distance
education as it applies to the design of AAOU. The second section of this document examines
the social contexts to consider in planning for AAOU. Section three describes distance
education as a system. The final section describes the application of these concepts, culminating
with a visual presentation of the relationships among the system elements.
Section I: Distance Education Definition
The design of AAOU begins with understanding the definition of distance education. As
the project progresses, the team will refer back to this definition and social implications to ensure
that AAOU satisfies its mission and objectives. Distance education is structured teaching and
learning through the use of some form of technology (Moore & Kearsley, 2012). Merely
accessing information on the Internet is not distance education. Furthermore, Moore and
Kearsley (2012) state that face to face teaching and learning supplemented by technological
resources is not distance education. Therefore, distance education is predicated on structured
content delivered using technology. Distance education today uses the Internet to engage
learners and to exchange materials. Teachers and learners enjoy the flexibility of processing
information at convenient times and places. AAOU’s mission statement falls within the
boundaries of this definition of distance education. Section II examines the social context and
factors affecting AAOU’s development.
Section II: Social Context and Factors
Traditional teaching and learning involve oral communication and visual signals, such as
body language and demonstrating concepts. Since DE involves teachers and learners separated
by time and distance, AAOU must address social issues inherent to DE. Peters (1998) elaborates
on the fundamental challenge of DE: DE defies the natural process of exchanging information
through oral communications. Therefore, participants need to adapt to using a different method
for primary communication (Peters, 1998). The challenge for AAOU is to develop programs in a
manner that facilitates successful written communications between the instructors and students.
Moreover, AAOU strives to meet instructor and learner goals. AAOU must not attempt to
merely transfer information via the Internet, but to also encourage instructors and learners to
explore and become innovators of new knowledge. Indeed, Peters (1998) states that one of the
extraordinary benefits of DE is the opportunity for further scientific research and technological
developments so desperately needed in “our age of constant technological, societal, and cultural
change” (p. 4). The Internet is widely used to gather information and to conduct research and
will be the primary tool to deliver course content, submit information, and manage data. Indeed,
as of June 2012 Internet usage around the world increased over 500% in the past twelve years.
Most of this growth occurred in Africa and the Middle East. Furthermore, nearly 80% of people
in North America use the Internet (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2012). AAOU can offer
educational opportunities to this growing population and keep to the institution’s mission as long
as AAOU remains abreast of the constant changes described by Peters (1998). However, the
very nature of distance learning requires that AAOU adapt to the learners’ needs as well.
Distance learning requires autonomy and leads to a more individualized approach to
teaching and learning. Teachers prompt exploration and learning and then react to student
responses. The teacher becomes more of an advisor or coach and less like a lecturer (Vilkonis &
Barabanova, 2010). Research by Vilkonis and Barabanova (2010) shows that autonomous
learners require sufficient support. Distance learners enjoy the flexibility of anywhere, anytime
learning but need comprehensive resources and learner support services. As the project team
develops AAOU’s infrastructure, the team must consider the scope of learner support services
needed. In addition to support, autonomous learners require motivation.
The nature of distance learning requires initiative and the motivation to complete the
programs. Graduation and retention rates are major success factors and benchmarks for funding
sources. Moreover, one of President Obama’s goals for the United States is to lead the world in
the proportion of college graduates by 2020 (Schneider, 2010). According to Schneider (2010),
for-profit online higher education institutions are the fastest growing segment in higher
education, but graduation rates are less than twenty percent. Furthermore, Carr (2000) asserts
that retention rates are lower for distance education students than for face to face learners.
AAOU’s project plan includes methods to improve learner success by incorporating motivational
techniques and inspirational interaction among all institutional learners, faculty, and staff.
Another factor to consider is the need for socialization. Learners and instructors like
online collaboration and social networking (Moore & Kearsley, 2012). Indeed, online learners
enjoy the emotional support and opportunities to share personal experiences in the online
environment (Moore & Kearsley, 2012). The AAOU DE system design includes technologies
that allow learners to interact with each other. Moreover, AAOU offers online clubs and
organizations for socializing. AAOU is committed to establishing resources and support services
that facilitate inclusion and belonging.
To summarize research findings presented in this report, AAOU needs to devise
instructional methods to facilitate the learning and understanding of course content. Support
services for instructors provide resources for faculty development, assessment, and
understanding the changing requirements for teaching with technology. Learner support services
provide resources to students to assist with research, writing, and technical issues. In
consideration of these requirements, the project team utilizes a systems approach to developing
the distance education curriculum at AAOU. The next section introduces systems principles for
use in AAOU’s distance education system.
Section III: Distance Education System
The systems approach is a rational method for development and problem resolution. The
concept involves identifying the system elements, relationships, and interactions (Rumble, 2006).
The elements are interactive, creating feedback loops. Rumble (2006) defines these feedback
loops in terms of the impact one element has on another. For example, consider AAOU’s
student support services. One component of the learner support service element may be the
writing coach service designed to assist students in completing written projects and papers. The
interaction between the writing coach and the learner creates a feedback loop as these two
elements communicate with each other. The first step in developing the distance education
system diagram is to identify the elements.
The following table of AAOU’s elements is based on the writings of Moore and Kearsley (2012).
Table 1
AAOU DE System Table of Elements
Course content
management system
Learner support
Faculty support
Student records
Accounting system
Assessment tools
AAOU is open to global learners
Instructors must possess terminal degrees. All instructors are not tenured.
Program directors, chairs, and deans receive same benefits as fulltime staff.
Programs offered include business, education, arts, sciences, and technology
Courses specific to programs as well as general education requirements
Software program to store catalog information. This element also includes
the learning management system to house and deliver course content.
Advisors, library, technical help, clubs, organizations
Library, technical help, faculty development resources
Software to store registration, records, transcripts, course enrollments, credit
hour production
Software to store revenues, expenses, and reporting information
Software for faculty and student evaluations, and reporting information
Management, policies and procedures, regulatory compliance, grievances,
resource allocation
Another key purpose of the systems method is to identify boundaries (Rumble, 2006). Some
boundaries for consideration in developing AAOU are listed in Table 2.
Table 2
AAOU DE System Boundaries by Element
Should AAOU offer degrees and certificates?
Will AAOU serve global learners as well as regional learners?
What credentials will instructors need? Will AAOU hire regular or adjunct
faculty? What is the hierarchy in the academic departments?
How will AAOU’s administrative staff operate? Central governance or program
Technology Who determines the technology used and the methods for design and
Attempting to answer the questions and determine the boundaries involves understanding
and applying the concepts discussed in Sections I and II of this report. For example, AAOU’s
mission is to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees to adult learners. In keeping with this
mission, the project team recommends offering certificates that correlate to these degree
programs and have value to learners who desire to improve career skills. As an example, the
AAOU offers a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a postgraduate certificate in
teaching with technology designed for elementary school teachers. Therefore, the project team
discourages offering certificates that have no residual value to learners and drain institutional
resources. Answering all of the questions needed to develop AAOU is beyond the scope of this
paper. Rather, the ultimate goal for this paper is to develop a holistic diagram of the AAOU
distance education system.
Section IV: System Diagram
The diagram on the next page includes the table of elements described in Table 1.
Furthermore, the diagram is based on Rumble’s (2006) drawing guidelines. The large blue circle
represents the AAOU; and within that circle is the table of elements. The white circles represent
the distance education system and are interrelated. The group of white circles is the primary
focus for the project team. Note that the diagram shows a white partition separating the
accounting system from the distance education system. The accounting system is separate from
the DE system but is necessary for recording business transactions. In addition, the diagram
identifies external stakeholders in the green circles using double arrows to show the feedback
loops between these stakeholders and the institutional elements. Please note that the order and
placement of the green circles is random and not restricted to any particular section of the larger
blue circle. The entire institution is accountable to the external stakeholders. Even though the
project team’s focus is on the distance education system (white circles), it is necessary to include
the accounting system and external stakeholders to ensure that the final DE system is capable of
satisfying the needs of these other constituents.
The Anywhere/Anytime Open University is in the planning and development phase of the
project. The project team’s first step is to identify the social context and the need for the
institution. Team members created system diagrams depicting the DE system in a holistic
perspective. The diagram provided in this report follows guidelines established by Rumble
(2006) and represents the DE system elements and relationships. These elements are based on
the specialized needs of distance education pedagogies. The next step for the project team is to
identify the DE system components and delineate the various inputs and outputs.
Figure 1. AAOU system diagram of elements with external stakeholders. This figure shows the
DE system elements and relationships, including external stakeholders.
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