One of the most important decisions to be made by an ODL institution is related to its policy on interaction and delivery, that is the institutional policy on the approach to teaching and learning
This refers to the way in which instructors will interact with learners to provide content input, assist with learners' study plans and discuss with learners the course goals and assignments as well as administer tests and other forms of formative assessment. It also refers to the frequency of contact between instructors and learners and the way in which learning materials, tests, assignments and administrative information will be delivered to students.
In a purely distance learning situation, where materials are mailed to learners, this is an easy decision. There is usually no interaction between students and instructors, and summative assessment is conducted at the end of the academic term. However, modern-day ODL institutions are structured somewhat differently, and some degree of interaction is often deemed necessary.
The decision on the nature of interaction between students and instructors and on the way in which content input may be delivered rests on a number of parameters. Conventional wisdom suggests that social interaction is necessary for the development of thinking, and distance learners benefit from guidance and learning support. Policy makers may make these decisions based on the following ideas for implementation.
- Interaction may be in the form of a synchronous or asynchronous mode. The ODL institution may provide for either mode of interaction, or a suitable combination of the two modes.
- Interaction may be carried out through traditional face-to-face means (referred to as the C-mode, where C refers to the classroom) or through electronic means (referred to as the E-mode).
Again, the ODL institution may provide for one means of interaction, or a suitable combination of the both.
- Many ODL institutions provide a combination of the C-mode and E-mode of interaction. This means that learners attend some classroom or tutorial sessions as well as interact with instructors and with each other electronically.
- The decision on the nature of interaction has to be made in tandem with the decision on frequency of the meetings, and whether these meetings are structured or provided on demand.
- Most ODL institutions use an electronic platform or a learning management system to conduct synchronous or asynchronous discussion between learners and instructors, as well as among learners.
The various functions of this networked system vary according to institutional agenda.
- The electronic platform or the learning management system is often used as a repository for the various digital learning materials, tests, assignments and administrative information that has to be accessible to instructors and learners.
- When all of the above issues have been resolved, and the various policies and decisions implemented, policy makers have to put into place a system where all forms of interaction and delivery can work as a unified whole.
Failure to do so would render the programme inefficient and learning effectiveness may not be achieved.