Assessing the Quality of Open and Distance Learning Materials

Author(s) Clarke, Alan
Publisher NIACE
Published 2001
Pages 28
ISBN 1862011192
Reviewed by Bruce Ingraham
Teaching Fellow and Open and Distance Learning Policy Manager, University of Teesside
Review published 1 December 2004

Alan Clarke's booklet Assessing the Quality of Open and Distance Learning Materials is a timely and useful guide to the range of issues surrounding the quality assessment of open and distance learning (ODL) resources. These guidelines are particularly welcome because of the growing amount of Open and Distance Learning material that is currently being used and/or developed by academic staff.

In the opening section, "What are open and distance learning materials?", Clarke identifies, among others, such things as workbooks, CBT and other online materials as examples of ODL resources. Some such materials are created by professionals and are distributed commercially to educationalists; but educationalists themselves are increasingly engaged in the creation of all of these. All too often the creation by the ordinary academic of such resources is "amateur" and frequently fails to take account of all the research work that has been done by professionals into the creation of high quality and open distance learning materials.

In either case academic users and creators of such materials need to consider the range of quality issues that Clarke examines in the second of the largest section of the booklet. These include issues concerning; learners, flexibility, assessment, learning design, learner support, learning strategies, presentation, and computer based learning.

The next two sections, "Evaluation Methods" and "Techniques", examine various approaches to the evaluation of open and distance learning resources with reference to the issues raised in the second section. From here Clarke moves on to consider issues concerning cost effectiveness, commissioning bespoke materials from a third party supplier, and licensing. The booklet concludes with an extremely useful "Checklist Evaluation of Learning Materials" and brief lists of useful contacts and publications.

The booklet's greatest strength is its conciseness. In a very small compass it calls attention to all of the most important issues users and developers of ODL materials should consider. Curiously, however, its conciseness is also perhaps its greatest weakness. Not the conciseness, per se, but the cost for so concise a work. The booklet is only £5.95 but it is also only twenty-eight pages long. The issue is not, of course, that the author or publishers are profiteering. The issue is whether or not the booklet should have been printed at all. Surely in the contemporary world so useful and brief a document would have been better distributed freely online. For example, this reviewer is currently writing a similar set of quality guidelines for the 500+ academic staff at his own University. I would cheerfully recommend that all of them have a copy of this instead, but I cannot in all conscience recommend that my University spend £3000 to achieve that goal.