Higher Education through Open and Distance Learning

By Keith Harry | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The costs of distance education

Thomas Hülsmann

Educational decision-makers all over the world are confronted by a rising demand for education, a demand with which the budget allocation generally does not keep pace. The challenge is how to cope with the demand, drive down average costs and keep up or improve standards. At the same time increased flexibility is appreciated since learner constituencies change considerably, part-time and mature students representing an increasing percentage. In this situation educational managers turn towards distance education in the hope that it will offer convenience, cost and quality.

This chapter looks at costs and effects in distance education in order to provide some guidance to managers working in this field. Guidance for managers in distance education can be given in three ways: by drawing attention to structural features of distance education; by drawing attention to case study evidence available; and by putting forward a framework for cost-effective media choice.


Costing issues

In distance education the teacher and the student are separated most of the time. This necessitates the reorganisation of the learning process into two main teaching functions: instruction (content presentation) and dialogue (learner support). Instruction is provided via resource media and learner support via communication media. Resource media make it possible to provide students free-standing, pre-prepared objects such as course material in the form of books, cassettes or CD-ROM. Communication media allow dialogue, contributing to an educational process rather than providing course material; videoconferencing, telephone tutoring or lectures can be used in this way. Resource media allow economies of scale, communication media do not. The more students use a printed book or listen to a broadcast, the lower the unit cost of writing and producing the original text or programme; in contrast, the costs of using communication media to provide dialogue increase with each additional student. To improve the trade-off between economies of scale (a parameter of efficiency) and teacher-student

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