Distance Education Technologies in Asia


Edited by: Jon Baggaley & Tian Belawati

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    This book is dedicated to the memory of Professor V.K. Samaranayake

    List of Tables

    List of Abbreviations

    A&EAccreditation & Equivalency
    AAOUAsian Association of Open Universities
    ADBAsian Development Bank
    ADMTCAdvanced Digital Media Technology Centre
    ADSLAsymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
    AICCAviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee
    AIOUAllama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan
    AIRAll India Radio
    ALSAlternative Learning Services
    APOUAndhra Pradesh Open University
    ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations
    ASTDAmerican Society for Training and Development
    ASTI-DOSTAdvanced Science and Technology Institute of the Department of Science and Technology
    ATMAsynchronous Transfer Mode
    BALSBureau of Alternative Learning System
    BBSsBulletin Board Systems
    BEdPBachelor of Education Degree for Primary teaching
    BIPSBhutan Information and Communications Technology Policy and Strategies
    BNUBeijing Normal University
    BRAOUB.R. Ambedkar Open University
    BITBachelor of Information Technology
    BTBhutan Telecom
    CALClient Access License
    CCRTVUChina Central Radio and TV University
    CEMCenter for Educational Measurement
    CERNETChina Education and Research Network
    ChinaGBNChina Golden Bridge Network
    ChinaNETChina Public Computer Internet
    CIITComsats Institute of Information Technology
    CIMSCollege of Information and Management Sciences, Pakistan
    CINTECComputer and Information Technology Council of Sri Lanka
    CLVCambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam
    CMCComputer-mediated Conferencing
    COLCommonwealth of Learning
    COMSATSCommission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South
    CSTNETChina Science and Technology Network
    DEDistance Education
    DEMPDistance Education Modernisation Project
    DEPPDistance Education Programme for the Public Sector
    DLCDistance Learning Centre
    DLTDistance Learning Technology
    DTEPDistance Teacher Education Programme
    eLCe-Learning Centre
    EMPCElectronic Media Production Centre
    EPCe-Assessment Procedures Checklist
    ERPEnterprise Resource Planning
    ESPFEnglish for Special Purposes Foundation
    FAPEFund for Assistance to Private Education
    FGDsFocus Group Discussions
    GDLNGlobal Development Learning Network
    GDPGross Domestic Product
    GPAGrade Point Average
    GSMGlobal System for Mobile Communication
    HDIHuman Development Index
    HECHigher Education Commission
    HEIsHigher Education Institutions
    HDRHuman Development Commission
    HSUMHealth Sciences University of Mongolia
    ICTInformation and Communication Technologies
    ICT-SLSICT-supported Learning Support System
    IDInstructional Design
    IDRCInternational Development Research Centre
    IEEE-IMSInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-Instrumentation and Measurement Society
    IETInstitute of Educational Technology, Pakistan
    IGNOUIndira Gandhi National Open University
    IICInternational Institute of Cambodia
    IUC-TEFEDInter-University Consortium for Technologyenabled Flexible Education and Development
    IICUTInternational Institute of Cambodia University of Technology
    IDRCInternational Development Research Centre
    IRCInteractive Radio Counseling
    ISPInternet Service Providers
    ISROIndian Space Research Organisation
    JICAJapan International Cooperation Agency
    LANLocal Area Network
    Lao PDRLao People's Democratic Republic
    LEARNLanka Educational and Academic Research Network
    LISLibrary and Information System
    LMSLearning Management Systems
    LOLearning Object
    LANLocal Area Network
    LOMLearning Object Materials
    MDFIMolave Development Foundation Inc.
    MINDMobile Technology Initiatives for Non-formal Distance Education
    MoEMinistry of Education
    MoECSMinistry of Education, Culture and Sciences, Mongolia
    MMSMultimedia Messaging Service
    NAPENew Approach to Primary Education, Bhutan
    NeLCNational e-Learning Centre
    NFENon-formal Education
    NICCNational Institute of Correspondence Courses, India
    NIENational Institute of Education, Sri Lanka
    NIME-GladNational Institute for Multimedia Education-Gateways to Learning for Ability Development
    NPTELNational Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning
    NSCNational Science Council
    NUoLNational University of Laos
    ODBCOpen Database Connectivity
    ODLOpen and Distance Learning
    OEROpen Educational Resource
    OLIVEOpen Learning Institute of Virtual Education, Pakistan
    OSSOpen-source Software
    OUOpen University
    OUSLOpen University of Sri Lanka
    PANdoraPan-Asia Network Distance Open Research Access
    PDAsPersonal Digital Assistants
    PERNPakistan Educational and Research Network
    PGCEPostgraduate Certificate in Education
    PiltelPilipino Telephone Corporation
    PTCPakistan Television Corporation
    PTCPrimary Teaching Certificate
    QAQuality Assurance
    RAMRandom-access Memory
    RSCsRegional Study Centres
    RUBRoyal University of Bhutan
    SALGStudent Assessment of Learning Gains
    SARSSevere Acute Respiratory Syndrome
    SCESamtse College of Education, Bhutan
    SCNUSouth China Normal University
    SCORMShareable Content Object Reference Model
    SDUSoftware Development Unit
    SEMPSecondary Education Modernisation Project
    SIDASwedish International Development Cooperation Agency
    SIMsSubscriber Indentity Modules
    SLIDASri Lanka Institute of Development Administration
    SLIDESri Lanka Institute of Distance Education
    SLIITSri Lankan Institute of Information Technology
    SMSShort Messaging Service
    SPSSStatistical Package for the Social Sciences
    SSASarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme
    STEAScience, Technology and Environment Agency, Lao PDR
    STOUSukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Thailand
    TAFThe Asia Foundation
    TDCCTraining and Development Communication Channel
    TTITeacher Training Institute
    UCSCUniversity of Colombo School of Computing
    UNDPUnited Nations Development Programme
    UNIDOUnited Nations Industrial Development Organization
    UPOUUniversity of the Philippines Open University
    USAIDUnited States Agency for International Development
    UTUniversitas Terbuka, Indonesia
    VCIVirtual Campus Initiatives
    VODVideo on Demand
    VoIPVoice-over Internet Protocol
    VTIsVocational Training Institutes
    VUPVirtual University of Pakistan
    WANWide-area Network
    WBTWeb-based Training


    For observers elsewhere in the world, the most striking feature of distance education (DE) in Asia is the mega-universities and mega-schools that have added many millions to the global tally of distance learners in recent decades. These are institutions such as China's radio and television universities (now called the Open University of China) and India's National Institute for Open Schooling.

    This book reveals a more complex, differentiated and interesting reality. Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) deserves our congratulations for having taken a pan-Asia perspective in PANdora in this study of distance and open resource access. The contributors of the various sections have worked in teams, which gives coherence and integrity to the book, which are usually missing in volumes where different contributors concentrate on individual countries. Furthermore, the editors and contributors have looked beyond the obvious places. For example, the development of distance education in Bhutan—where television is barely a decade old—is probably little known even to specialists. In most cases, rigorous research methods have been used in the studies, which have left an important legacy of expertise across the region.

    I particularly appreciate the way that the book is true to its title: Distance Education Technologies in Asia. Instead of focusing on a limited number of institutions and surveying a sample of their students, the contributors have cast their net wider. What emerges is a broad and candid picture of the evolving role that technology is playing in education in Asia. We find that governments are engaging with distance education technologies in a determined fashion. The accounts of developments in China are particularly illuminating in this regard, focusing as they do on both the provision of network technologies and arrangements for quality assurance.

    The contributions highlight both similarities and differences with developments elsewhere in the world. It is fascinating to discover, for example, that the effervescent multiplication and subsequent winnowing down of online schools in China around the turn of the century closely followed the dotcom boom and bust in the West. On the other hand, the major lesson of the book is that countries which simply tried to copy the use of distance education technologies in North America and Europe have encountered both technical and cultural difficulties.

    In the technical arena the key lesson is that an attempt to be “modern” by focusing too sharply on Internet-based education will fail for some time yet because of its general lack of accessibility and affordability. In many countries browser loading times are so slow—if the web pages load at all—that web-based study is a passport to frustration. DE through mixed media technologies has a greater chance of success, particularly the use of DVDs on stand-alone computers. Connectivity to the Internet is, of course, expanding and improving everywhere, but distance education gets a bad name if its practitioners jump the gun by assuming an infrastructure that does not yet exist.

    On the cultural front, it is risky to assert that Asian students are different from others either in preferring face-to-face instruction or in finding books more reliable than electronic media. Face-to-face teaching is still the main means of instruction in all countries and books are very flexible vehicles for learning in countries where they are rare, prized commodities. However, as students in Asia discover the convenience and richness of reliable DE technologies, they too will adopt them with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the lesson of this book is that institutions should offer flexible learning systems that blend appropriate media with face-to-face events.

    Another conclusion of the book, which successive generations of DE projects seem to have to rediscover the hard way, is that technology, whether using older or online media, has to be embedded within an effective student support system. Distance learners, like any students, require both encouragement and feedback. Technology can help to provide this, but it has to be built into the system by its designers; no technology provides its own pedagogy.

    To say this is not to criticise institutions trying to offer DE in Asia. They are doing what they can with limited expertise and resources. Another challenge flagged in the book is the general shortage of trained DE specialists across Asia. It is helpful to have a chapter devoted to the training of instructional designers as well as media specialists.

    The many institutions that are now adding distance learning to their conventional offerings are also learning that services which campus student can (sometimes!) take for granted, such as libraries, require special arrangements for distance learners. Here again the rhetoric about digital access is some way ahead of the reality in much of Asia.

    As we would expect from Asia's largest country, China is a particularly interesting laboratory. As in other countries, the tremendous developments in higher distance learning—which already account for over 14 per cent of China's university and college enrolments—are now spawning the growth of open schooling at the secondary level. What will be more surprising to those with an older image of China's economy is that much of this growth is driven by the private sector. The commercialisation of DE is changing the way that it is managed.

    The book also provides interesting insights into the rapid evolution of technology. A most interesting chapter (Chapter 8) reports on the evaluation of 56 learning management systems (LMS). It concluded that MoodleTM was the most generally useful system, somewhat anticipating its steady emergence as the industry standard in many parts of the world. The study rightly emphasises, however, that taking advantage of the good features of open source software (OSS) does require an institution to have more IT expertise available than if it locks itself into a proprietary LMS and relies on the vendor to adapt it to local needs.

    The chapter (Chapter 9) on learning objects and education through mobile telephony provides other examples of how quickly things change. Today the term “learning object” has been replaced by “open educational resource” (OER) and the notion of learning object repositories has been superseded by search engines that allow OERs to be found wherever they are. However, the training that the PANdora project provided in the development and use of learning objects will stand the participants in good stead as the adaptation and re-use of OERs becomes commonplace in developing learning materials for both face-to-face teaching and distance learning. Universities as different as Canada's Athabasca University and Malaysia's Asian eUniversity now require evidence of a worldwide search for adaptable OERs before any material can be developed from scratch for a new course.

    Similarly, perhaps because of educators' devotion to the written word, the early use of mobile telephones in education concentrated, as it does in this book, on the use of text through SMS (Short Messaging Service). Today, this is being supplemented by the linking together of mobile networks and LMS to allow learning and assessment solely through the audio channel to reach thousands of people. Asia is in the forefront of this development, which promises to bring livelihood-related training to millions of illiterate people in their own language or dialect.

    In summary, this is a most stimulating book. Thanks to its origins in the PANdora project it has coherence, a breadth of coverage and a rigour of analysis that are rare in such collections. I congratulate the editors and contributors on producing such an interesting volume and commend it to readers as a compelling guide to the diversity and complexity of the contemporary use of distance learning technologies in Asia.

    October 2009

    Sir JohnDaniel, President and CEO, Commonwealth of Learning


    JonBaggaley, TianBelawati, NaveedMalik, FelixLibrero and MariaNg LeeHoon
    The Pandora Distance Education Network

    In 2004, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada conducted a study of current distance education (DE) research and development initiatives across Asia. Managed by the IDRC's PAN Asia Networking division in Singapore, the study focused on uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the delivery of formal and non-formal DE. Research teams were identified whose high levels of experience might assist other teams with lesser experience in future research projects. In September 2004, teams from a dozen Asian countries were invited to a conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at which they exchanged ideas and planned joint proposals for studies of Asian DE and distance learning technology (DLT). The IDRC responded to their proposals by funding a single “meta-project” combining all of them. The overall project became known as PANdora. Described at http://www.pandora-asia.org, its general objectives are to:

    • conduct research on the effectiveness of DLTs in situations relating to accessibility, and to geographic, socio-economic, gender, pedagogical and cultural factors;
    • learn, exchange, collaborate and share information with tertiary institutions in developing countries working in distance and flexible learning;
    • foster collaborative research among DLT specialists and institutions in the region, incorporating lessons from previous and ongoing projects;
    • develop access models for DE delivery;
    • develop shared resources (including software) for DE;
    • investigate the effectiveness of instructional procedures for specific DLTs;
    • provide training in the practices of DLT research, evaluation and content development; and
    • prepare policy guidelines and standards for DE in the region.

    From 2005–08, 24 PANdora team members from 19 institutions in 11 Asian countries have collaborated on the following subprojects:

    • Accessibility, acceptance and effects of DLT in Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
    • Viability of mobile SMS technologies for non-formal DL in Mongolia and the Philippines.
    • Evaluation and adaptation of open source software for DL in Indonesia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.
    • Distance-based teacher education in Bhutan.
    • Instructional design training for ICT-based DL in open universities across Asia.
    • A repository of reusable learning objects for DL in Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand.
    • E-assessment methods and models for student evaluation in DL.
    • Best practices in DL technology for capacity building in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam.
    • Evaluation of DL Practices for policy recommendations in China, Mongolia and Viet Nam.

    As is apparent from these titles, most of the sub-projects involve researchers from at least two countries and usually three or more (the exception is the Bhutan project). This has ensured that each study is representative of regional issues and is not unduly influenced by the peculiar circumstances of any particular country. The combined results of these research efforts have been collated at the Grand Project level, and have yielded a series of two dozen training modules assisting the development of DE in Asia (Belawati and Baggaley, 2010).

    The PANdora Network (2005–08)

    Many of the PANdora studies have yielded original findings in a surprisingly short space of time, as is evident from the special edition of the international journal Distance Education devoted to PANdora and other pan-Asia reports in winter 2007. The current book contains the updated findings and final conclusions of all nine PANdora projects. Much is reported of original merit in relation to DE internationally, for example, the pioneering work of Asian educators in developing inexpensive mobile methods of DE delivery using the cell-phone; and critical observations about, for example, Internet-based techniques that have become standard in international DE, but do not work well in the Asian context owing to their inaccessibility. These conclusions are not drawn lightly, but are based on the evaluation studies that are a common feature of the PANdora projects.

    Summary of Issues
    Felix Librero

    The results of the PANdora network's 2005–08 studies are comprehensively reported in the current volume. It has been compiled by Jon Baggaley and Tian Belawati on behalf of the PANdora network and its research teams in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. It provides comprehensive coverage of recent Asian experience in DE, which has not been sufficiently highlighted in the larger body of literature that stresses DE experiences in Australia, Europe and North America. Asia is not a homogeneous region, but is composed of countries of diverse cultural foundations that differ greatly in the ways they provide educational services to their citizens. Nonetheless, a collection of experiences presumed to have an Asian “flavour” is a great contribution to the larger body of DE knowledge that is accumulating in the international marketplace of ideas. The fundamental issues that this volume has highlighted are clustered into six themes: accessibility, acceptance and effects in South Asia; the Chinese experience; issues and practices in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam (the CLV countries) and Mongolia; recent developments in DE course delivery in Asia; and instructional design and assessment.

    The book's emphases on these particular countries can be justified by the fact that information on DE initiatives there has been inadequately reported in the international literature. Perhaps the most extensive network of DE institutions in the world is to be found in China, yet we have little information about it outside that country. The Mongolian experience, similarly, is showing fresh views on harnessing external assistance, combined with internal political will to promote DE as a means of providing educational services to its widespread population. The CLV report also highlights DE initiatives in countries that are struggling to introduce ways of providing better opportunities for their citizens to access educational services, with the experiences of other countries of the region as models.

    Information from the other Asian countries represented in the book provides interesting insights into recent trends in the delivery of educational services. Again, many of these countries have been offering high quality educational services for some time that has not been sufficiently highlighted in international forums. In some instances, recent efforts in Asian countries actually seem to involve more advanced mechanisms than are common in DE elsewhere, for example, the use of SMS technology to deliver educational content. These are significant contributions from Asia to the body of knowledge about DE currently available internationally.

    National Issues

    Early chapters in the book provide a major perspective on how issues of accessibility, acceptance and effects of DE are dealt with in the South Asian countries of Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—nations with similar experiences influenced by the British educational system. Of these countries, Bhutan is the beginner in terms of adopting DE to provide educational opportunities to its citizens, having begun its DE efforts only in 1995 with the establishment of its Distance Teacher Education Programme (DTEP). India (since 1962), Pakistan (since 1974) and Sri Lanka (since the late 1970s) have had rich experiences in implementing DE programmes. India has the most extensive network of open universities and DE institutions in Asia outside of China. Bhutan has elected to employ the advantages of recent advances in ICT by designing its DE initiatives to be largely Internet-enhanced. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, on the other hand, began by employing radio and television for DE because in those countries radio/TV broadcasting is highly advanced. India, for example, has made extensive use of satellite broadcasting. They have advanced greatly in the use of the Internet more recently. In general, however, there is a perceptible unevenness in the use of ICT-based resources across countries in the South Asian sub-region, although it seems clear that this is fast being resolved by the increasing deployment of advanced ICT systems. Still, the efforts seem to fall short of the need. While learners in the sub-region are aware of the advantages of ICT, the affordability and accessibility of these technologies remain a problem. For this reason, South Asian authors support increased investments in the ICT sector as a means of improving accessibility and affordability for learners.

    Further detail about the early experiences of DE in Bhutan is given in a subsequent chapter. The Samtse College of Education in Bhutan is part of the Royal University of Bhutan, and is the pioneering institution that first introduced DE in the country. It is continuing its pioneering work by introducing ICTs as major support for its DTEP, which allows certified teachers to earn Bachelor's degrees in primary teaching. The telecommunications sector in Bhutan is experiencing rapid growth and development, and it is clear that ICTs will become ubiquitous tools in the delivery of educational services, as highlighted in the Bhutan Information and Communications Technology Policy and Strategies (BIPS) launched in 2004.

    The Bhutan research team reports their extensive study of the growth and use of ICTs in DE programmes in their country, the conclusion that ICT usage has yielded good learning experiences. More than one-third of the DE students reported that the use of ICTs met their needs. A substantial proportion of them (58 per cent) claimed otherwise, however, mainly owing to the issue of limited access. Accessibility, the study has found, is influenced by sub-issues such as lack of hardware and limited skills in hardware use. Other interesting observations include the fact that male students slightly outnumber females in the frequency of Internet usage, though females use it more frequently to download learning materials. While students in urban centres are more frequent Internet users than rural users, the latter use it more frequently for educational purposes. Overall, students and teachers both reported positive uses of ICTs for learning materials delivery, despite barriers such as limited capacity of the system and lack of hardware. Both reported that the use of ICTs improved the level of learner support and introduced an element of interactivity to the programme that had hitherto been absent, except during residential sessions. Student respondents of the study also said that one of the most important benefits of ICTs was the opportunity to download materials to which they would otherwise not have had access. This point was made in suggesting to instructors how they might effectively use ICTs. The introduction of ICTs in the DE programme of Bhutan also has implications for the introduction of learning management systems and the need to train learning services designers in their use. Thus, the introduction of technology in itself is not necessarily enough to expedite the learning process.

    Much of the literature about DE in China focuses on the radio-TV universities in that country and provides relatively little on other interesting issues. Chapter 4 in the book provides extensive analysis and discussion of the efforts in China towards providing DE opportunities through e-learning strategies at the K-12 (primary and middle school) levels, through what are called the K-12 Online Schools. The schools' main channels for DE content are CDs, cable television and the Internet. The K-12 school experience is providing interesting information on access issues. China is a huge country and educational development across it is largely uneven and negatively affects the accessibility of conventional education institutions. The chapter reports a 2005 study, which reported that 63 per cent of the students and their parents said they chose online schools because they thought they could “obtain guidance from famous teachers in different places.”

    There are, of course, problems associated with online schools. Survey results reported in the book indicate that almost 42 per cent of the Chinese sample is unsatisfied with the education provided by online schools, and that 37 per cent thought such education was just adequate. Of those who were unsatisfied, about one-third criticised the quality of service. A major problem of the online school in China is identified with the curriculum, which is still primarily focused on “teacher-centred” rather than “learner-centred” methods, combined with an imperfect assessment system that emphasises regular exercises and subjective examinations rather than measurement of the learners' ability to use knowledge to resolve problematic issues.

    Higher education in China is associated with “elite education” whereby only the top 10 per cent of the best students in society have access to education, mainly through the conventional system. Increasingly, higher education is becoming more accessible to students through the DE mode, particularly owing to the use of ICT to provide flexible e-learning strategies. It is expected that by 2010, the top 15 per cent of Chinese students will have access to higher education. As with other countries experiencing problems in the application of ICTs in the delivery of educational services, China is grappling with the issues of insufficient expertise in the design and application of e-learning strategies, the need to standardise and customise learning materials, and the high teacher-student ratio. E-learning in Chinese higher education is growing rapidly, and as of 2005, off-campus learning centres for higher education numbered 6,000. It is interesting to note that in China, the education sector is becoming increasingly market-driven, and that the Chinese government is controlling the increase in the number of institutions moving into e-learning.

    Mongolia is a relatively recent entrant into the Asian DE movement, and its efforts are geared towards developing a strong ICT-enhanced DE system. While not much has yet been seen in terms of actual DE programmes and projects, much DE planning is being undertaken with the assistance of international development agencies. Given Mongolia's large geographical size, it is not surprising that radio and TV broadcasting are major components of the emerging DE sector in that country, even as the Internet is gaining higher levels of penetration there. The use of radio, TV, and increased use of the Internet in the delivery of DE programmes has been prioritised by the Distance Learning Council of Mongolia. A national DE initiative is emerging that will encourage the use of these media in both the urban and remote areas of the country.

    The use of other Asian DE experiences as basis for planning is a logical move for Mongolia because most Asian countries that are now involved in DE have a collective experience that should prove highly beneficial to its efforts. Other countries have much experience relating to the design of local learning materials and nature, and local availability of human resources for that purpose. An evaluation of the DE initiatives of Mongolia thus far indicates that the teachers and learners alike have a positive attitude towards DE strategies. As in other developing countries, however, obstacles to the successful introduction of DE include the usual issues of limited financial resources, lack of trained human resources, and a lukewarm attitude on the part of policy and decision makers toward DE as a general educational approach.

    Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam (CLV) are also starting to organise DE programmes and are keenly interested to learn from the experiences of their neighbouring countries, particularly in Southeast Asia. The CLV section of the book contains a review of their early DE and e-learning initiatives, which differ in rate of implementation and extent from country to country. While DE in these countries is not as mature as in some other Asian nations, all three of them are making clear efforts to strengthen their DE policy framework and their telecommunications and e-learning infrastructures.

    New Technologies

    The book reports numerous new studies of course delivery mechanisms by Asian researchers, with relevance to the whole region. An interesting initiative concerns the evaluation of various learning management systems (LMS) developed using open-source software (OSS), with a view to determining which of them best suits Asia's educational needs. Much information about LMS software is based on experiences and tests in North America and Europe, and the current evaluation appears to be the first of its type undertaken in Asia. Numerous LMS softwares, commercial and non-commercial, are available and differ greatly in terms of features and efficiency. Their hidden costs and user manuals are not always clear, and numerous other adoption problems relate to their interoperability, localisation features and bandwidth requirements. The current team of evaluators from Indonesia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam shortlisted eight OSS learning management packages and concluded that Moodle 1.5, while not necessarily ideal, is superior to rival products in terms of ease of adoption, cost of ownership, and openness, and is the most promising of current LMS products for the higher education community in Asia.

    Many Asian institutions have developed the capability to produce learning materials that are ICT-supported and delivered through the Internet. These materials are difficult to access, however, being stored in closed systems. Another useful study is therefore developing a repository of digital learning objects for Asian educational institutions to share. This project is the result of contributions between Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand. Some of the course designers involved in the learning object materials (LOM) project have been creating such materials for the first time, and they have been observed to be somewhat intimidated by the prospect of producing materials that would be made available region-wide, while going through the development process by trial and error. An overall effect of the project has been that these learning object developers have gained confidence in their ability to develop good objects that can be widely useful. On the other hand, they have found it quite difficult to design that are uniformly useful to all learners in Asia, because the region is vast and composed of culturally diverse nations and needs.

    Mobile technologies have become commonplace worldwide. In Europe and North America, “personal digital assistant” technologies have been used effectively as administrative support tools in DE programmes. In Asia, something else is happening. Efforts are being made to use mobile technologies as tools to deliver content, which seems to be a new experience not observed elsewhere. The experiences reported in the book about uses of short message service (SMS) in Mongolia and the Philippines are attracting international interest, for they evidently attract high levels of interest among learners with mobile phones. In the current study, participants in the evaluation of SMS modules, while initially dubious owing to the inherent limitations of the mobile phone, appear to have been surprised at the possibilities of this new medium to deliver lessons. They appeared excited in using the technology to answer quizzes based on the lessons. There appears to be much scope for developing the SMS technology as a means of delivering instructional and administrative support in the Asian region and beyond.

    Design and Assessment Issues

    One of the major issues about which Asian DE experts are concerned is effective instructional design. This has become increasingly important as Asian countries look to DE as a major means of enhancing their national development efforts. The book reports a study showing that majority of instructional designers in Asian DE institutions have had formal training in instructional design, which they acquired while doing graduate work in North American or European universities during the last 15–25 years. Consequently, the instructional design models that they employ now are traditional approaches developed up to 30 years ago. The study shows that Asian instructional designers need to upgrade their instructional design knowledge and skills so that they are more relevant to the Asian educational technologies of the present day. Via a regional survey, the study has determined specific topics that designers would wish to be included in an instructional design training course for ICT-based DE. The survey was conducted in four Southeast Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand), and four South Asian countries (Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). It has indicated that Asian instructional designers are interested in undergoing instructional design training relating to:

    • the application of current research and theory;
    • the selection and use of methods and media;
    • technology trends including mobile learning methods;
    • evaluation techniques; and
    • development of multimedia materials.

    As a result of the study, a training course has been designed for Asian instructional designers with a module on each of these topics.

    E-assessment has also become a major concern in relation to the increasing use of ICTs in delivering DE services. The book reports the study of four assessment strategies (formative, summative, diagnostic and adaptive) for DE purposes in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in relation to gender, economic, technological, academic, socio-ethical and administrative/operational issues. An e-assessment procedures checklist (EPC) is provided to facilitate the development of a flexible model of assessment in Asia, and e-assessment routines via open-source software.

    Comments by the Editors

    The book presents a useful snapshot of DE's Asian development in the early years of the 21st century. In North America, Europe and Australia, a wide range of educational technologies have been available for decades, and practice gained in their DE uses. An attempt to apply these same techniques, primarily Internet-based, is now being made in the developing world with mixed results. The book reports, to our knowledge, the first amassing of organised data about this effort across an extensive network of Asian countries. The initiative has generated consistent and salutary findings about DE's impact, and lack of it, which should be carefully heeded by the developing world policymakers and their advisors.

    Where does the development of DE technology in Asia go from here? The overall conclusion of these studies is that DE methods that have become standard in other parts of the world are simply not working in Asia. This is not a new conclusion, for the developing world's lack of DE infrastructure, accessibility and training have been described repeatedly in the educational literature of the last 10 years. Recommendations for overcoming these problems have been also become commonplace and reappear yet again in the following chapters. The current book, however, adds firm evidence about DE's failures that has not always been available previously. The surveys it reports involve different DE contexts, methodologies and levels of generalisability, but their conclusions are inescapably consistent.

    The analysis of DE practices in China and Mongolia is particularly frank, and indicates that students, teachers and managers can hold each other to blame for the problems. It is no longer a matter of needing to prove that DE efforts are failing in the developing world, therefore. The question has become how to change this situation for the benefit of the millions of students who would not have access to education otherwise, and as a means of injecting skill and enterprise into the region's needy economies. The current researchers deeply hope that their recommendations will be capable of translation into practical and political action. The widespread non-accessibility of Internet-based methods to students, for example, should not continue to be ignored if DE's promise is to be taken seriously by Asia's teachers and students.

    Congratulations go to the many individuals in the PANdora network who have contributed to this endeavour, and who have achieved so much in just three years. They have benefitted greatly from the network's unique collaborative approach, which has allowed them to compare their experiences and to design complementary studies across the region. Our gratitude for this goes to the IDRC, whose altruistic concern for real-world development issues has made this series of studies possible under a grant to the PANdora Pan-Asia Network Distance Open Research Access Project; and to Maria Ng Lee Hoon, Senior Programme Specialist in the IDRC's PAN Asia Networking division, for the unique vision of international collaboration and mentoring that has underpinned the project. We also honour the memory of Professor V.K. Samaranayake, the father of computing in Sri Lanka, whose leadership in the project has been vital to its success.

    It has been a pleasure to assist the diligent PANdora project teams throughout the IDRC's 2005–08 Asian project, to be accepted with collegiality and friendship into their countries, and to edit their work into this and other publications for the benefit of a wide international readership.

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    About the Editors and Contributors


    Jon Baggaley is Professor of Educational Technology at Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada, and advisor to the PANdora network.

    Tian Belawati is Rector at Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia, and co-leader of the PANdora network.


    Sheeraz Ahmed is Research Associate and Research Scholar in the Department of Computer Science, Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Amarsaikhan Dashtseren is Director of the Postgraduate Institute, and Vice-President of the Health Sciences University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.

    Dilhari Attygalle is Senior Lecturer in Statistics at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    Batpurev Batchuluun is Executive Director of InfoCon Co. Ltd. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

    Vu The Binh is Deputy Director of Netnam Ltd., Hanoi, Viet Nam.

    Mark Bullen is Associate Dean of the Learning and Teaching Centre at British Columbia Institute of Technology, Canada.

    Chen Hui Na is a Master's degree student in Distance Education at Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.

    Chen Li is Deputy Dean of the School of Education Technology, and Director of the Distance Education Research Centre, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.

    Chhuon Chanthan is Rector of the International Institute, Cambodia University of Technology, Phnom Penh.

    Doung Vuth is Deputy Director of Information and ASEAN Affairs in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia.

    A.P. Hardhono is a former Lecturer in Statistics at Universitas Terbuka, Jakarta, Indonesia.

    K.P. Hewagamage is Senior Lecturer and Head of the e-learning Centre at the University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka.

    Sangay Jamtsho is Lecturer at the Samtse College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan.

    Zeba Khan is Deputy Director of the Electronic Media Production Centre at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi.

    Felix Librero is former Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University, Los Baños, Laguna, the Philippines.

    Naveed Malik is Rector of the Virtual University of Pakistan, Lahore, and leader of the PANdora research network.

    Sanjaya Mishra is Reader in Distance Education at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi, India.

    Maria Ng Lee Hoon is Senior Programme Specialist in the PAN Asia Networking division of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Singapore.

    Oyun Sanjaa is Distance Learning Officer at the Health Sciences University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.

    K.H.R.A. Peiris is an e-learning software engineer at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    Somphone Phanousith is Permanent Secretary of the National Science Council, Prime Minister's Office, Lao People's Democratic Republic.

    Phonpasit Phissamay is Chief of the Information Technology Centre, Science, Technology and Environment Agency, Lao People's Democratic Republic.

    Tanit Pusiri is Associate Professor and Director of the Office of Educational Technology at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Nontaburi, Thailand.

    Angelo Juan O. Ramos is Executive Director of the Molave Foundation, Manila, the Philippines.

    Sonam Rinchen is Lecturer at the Samtse College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan.

    V.K. Samaranayake was founder of the University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka. He was also Emeritus Professor of Computer Science, University of Colombo, and Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Agency of Sri Lanka. (Professor Samaranayake died in May 2007 shortly after completing his work as coordinating author of the Sri Lanka chapters in the current volume.)

    Nazir A. Sangi is Vice-Chancellor and former Chairman of the Department of Computer Science, and Project Director, OLIVE, at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Sunee Silphiphat is Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Economics at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Nonthaburi, Thailand.

    Tran Thi Tai is Dean of the Faculty of Academic Disciplines at the Fisheries College, Bac Ninh, Viet Nam.

    Jerome P. Triñona is Information and Communications Officer at the Molave Development Foundation, Manila, the Philippines.

    Wang Nan is Lecturer at Beijing Institute of Technology, and doctoral student in Distance Education at Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.

    W.A.U.C. Weerakoon is an e-learning software engineer at the University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    Gihan N. Wikramanyake is Professor of Computing, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    P. Wimalaratne is Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo School of Computing, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    Weiyuan Zhang is Head and Chief Researcher of the Centre for Research in Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning (CELL Research Centre), School of Professional and Continuing Education, University of Hong Kong, and Adjunct Professor at Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.

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