The findings to be discussed in this paper are part of a research project focused on examining the relationship of major stakeholders in open learning within management development. In particular, it is concerned with addressing the progressions and likely future direction of open learning and the role it will play into the twenty-first century, particularly within a management development context.
Open learning is a term that has attracted considerable attention and debate, particularly over the last ten years. While the concept of open learning is not new (it can be traced back well over 100 years (see Mann[1,2])), its association with management development is a relatively new relationship. For example, although the Open University (OU) was established in 1969, the Open Business School (OBS) was not formed until 1983 - when the first distance-taught MBA was developed. Likewise, Wolsey Hall (Oxford), one of the long-time surviving early correspondence schools, although first operational in 1894 - did not provide courses in management development until 1989, almost a century later.
It is since the mid-1980s that there has been an explosion of interest in the use of open learning within management development. This interest has come from management development providers, purchasers, end-users, technologists and the Government, among others, who all form part of a multiple stakeholders web. Each "actor" is eager to reap the benefits of adopting a learning approach uniquely different from other, more traditional approaches, whether the benefits be purely market opportunism, a device used to cater for increased student numbers, or a means of receiving more flexible learning.
The research project
The research adopted a staged approach, the first being a survey (of the provider and purchaser stakeholders), and the second being a case-study approach (centring on the end-user stakeholders). It is the intention of this paper primarily to outline the survey findings while ongoing work is currently being concentrated on the case studies.
Questions were asked in the survey to establish the progression of open learning over the last ten years; the likely future progress with reference to the main technologies, media and trends; the factors most influential in the change in perception and utilization of open learning; and an identification of the advantages and barriers of open learning for both purchasers and providers within management development.
The limitations of the data will also be highlighted, along with the implications for the research project and the future direction the research will take as a result of the survey findings.
The paper will conclude with an evaluation of the research findings, in terms of the development of open learning and the likely future direction of stakeholders within a management development arena.
A survey approach was used in order to extract quick, concise information and to establish a market-wide viewpoint of the stakeholders with regard to the state of play of open learning generally and within management development.
The stakeholders to be surveyed were identified as being purchasers, providers and end-users. The latter was excluded from the survey and included in the case-study side of the research project because of the practical accessibility and ethical difficulties of obtaining names and addresses of end users from a cross-section of open learning provider institutions.
Two separate questionnaires (to accommodate intrinsic differences in the roles played by the two different stakeholders) were drawn up, although there was in-built consistency in order to retain comparability wherever possible. The content of the questionnaire was based around findings from an earlier literature search, general observations and areas of interest from within the field as well as initial findings emerging from early case studies. After piloting, the questionnaires were sent out to a cross-section sample of 100 (both providers and purchasers), which resulted in a 41 per cent response rate for the provider questionnaire and a 40 per cent response rate for the purchaser questionnaire.
The following are the main findings to emerge from the survey:
* There appears to be confusion over the terminology issue of what open learning is.
* Open learning, although founded many years ago, would appear to have been established within UK organizations only over the last ten years, and within management development over the last five years.
* Within management development, supervisory and middle-management areas appear to be catered for by open learning to a greater degree than senior levels.
* Open learning media, technology, costs, economic climate, social acceptability, assessment and government policies would appear to be (to varying degrees) influential factors associated with the increases in provision and purchase of open learning.
* The advantages of open learning brought about varying responses between the cost efficiency, interchangeability, convenience, range and quality, with potential cost efficiency being seen as the most advantageous factor.
* The barriers of open learning brought about varying responses between initial purchase costs, perceptions of end-users, viewing time prior to selection and dating/depreciation of the materials, with initial purchase costs being seen as the most significant barrier.
The discussion below will highlight some of the main areas addressed in the questionnaire and the findings obtained.
The terminology issue/debate
It is apparent from the questionnaire results that there is still a degree of confusion about the definition of what open learning is and what it encompasses. Indeed this issue has been the subject of much previous debate and deliberation (see [2,5-15], who have all discussed the matter of what open learning is at some length).
The findings appear to highlight how other associated forms of learning such as distance learning and open access, are confused to mean the same as open learning. For …