Learning materials are vital to open and distance
learning (ODL) because they replace teachers
and classroom learning. Like many other ODL
institutions, OUM takes pride in designing and developing
learning materials in the form of print modules, CDs, webbased
content and others for the purpose of enhancing and
sustaining its blended pedagogy.
OUM develops the learning materials through a stringent
process which is supported by academic experts and
instructional designers. However, there have been some
comments from some learners and tutors on the need to
improve certain modules. Should improvements be made to
the modules or should these be replaced with textbooks? To
answer this question, first let's understand the differences
between modules and textbooks.
A typical ODL module contains a course guide, learning
outcomes, activities, summaries, key terms and self-marked
tests. It will have a friendly style of writing with learners
addressed as "you," lots of examples, a highly structured
layout with many headings, various signposting devices,
less text than a textbook and structured spaces for learners
to write responses for activities. A textbook published in
present times will also have almost all of the above. But
it will probably have more text, fewer signposting devices
and less space for learners' responses. Both modules and
textbooks can be published in print or digital format.
Modules have an advantage over textbooks in that the
former have clear objectives and are more concise and
straight to the point, making them appealing to OUM
learners. Modules encourage self-learning and usually
contain examples set in the local context, which are
hardly found in renowned textbooks as they focus on the
international arena. In addition, it is more economical to
print modules than purchase textbooks in larger quantities.
On the other hand, textbooks are written by field experts
and undergo a rigorous editing process which makes them
fundamentally free from grammatical errors and plagiarism.
Textbooks also have better presentation than modules
because of the colours and graphics used.
Nevertheless, in comparing modules and textbooks, the
emphasis should be on the actual value of learning, which is
determined by neither the cover nor the colours of the books.
Instead, it is about providing quality content and presenting
it pedagogically. While some modules need to improve in
terms of quality, they also need to remain centred on the
importance of meeting the needs of ODL learners.
Modules ought to facilitate the transmission of a
meaningful learning experience, knowledge and skills to
learners as stipulated by the learning outcomes. Prevention
and early detection of problematic content in modules are
crucial to avoid affecting learners' performance. Similarly,
the other forms of learning materials should also be well
devised for learning. Poor pedagogical instructions in
learning materials will result in high dropout rates and affect
the University's reputation.
Although the quality of a few OUM modules needs to
be improved, OUM does have some excellent modules.
One of these is OUMH 1103 Learning Skills for Open and
Distance Learners, which received the Commonwealth of
Learning (COL) Excellence in Distance Education Award
for Distance Education Materials. This is a great example of
what OUM is capable of achieving in terms of providing its
learners with learning materials of high quality.