n South African Journal of Higher Education - Beyond access : tailoring ODL provision to advance social justice and development




This article observes that while open distance learning (ODL) has demonstrably created greater opportunities for access to higher education opportunities, access alone is a necessary but insufficient criterion for advancing the twin causes of development and social justice. The article considers social justice and supporting learners in ODL, particularly in terms of what is taught and the ways in which teaching/learning is mediated. It argues that the demographics of ODL learners are changing and these changes should be considered and addressed. The article starts from the assumption that learning is a basic human activity, but observes that what is learned in higher education is both more systematic and more purposeful and therefore requires careful mediation. It considers the University of South Africa (Unisa) case, recognising a shift towards an epistemology of social-constructivism, where progressive scaffolding allows the learner to move to more independent learning. The article then identifies some of the key assumptions that need to inform changed practice in order to produce a deeper sense of connection and relevance with learners: from appreciating that learning resides with the learner, through to redesigning the distance learning approach. The article is basically a position paper for Unisa, but it seeks to manifest many of the root assumptions underlying its interpretation of ODL. As such it is hoped that the article will be of interest to international readers by providing an African perspective on challenges faced by higher education more generally.


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