One of the significant drivers for many in the open education field is that of increasing access to higher education, often through reducing costs for course materials. Another approach is to scaffold multiple points of access to higher education through what Irvine, Code, and Richards 2013 call multi-access learning.
Their model contains four tiers or ways that students may choose to access learning environments.
Tier 1 - Face-to face
Tier 1 is represented by what most people typically think of when they think of university. One instructor for many students (sometimes very many) meeting 1-3 times per week for lectures and other learning activities. Sometimes it is very difficult for students to attend T1 programs due to costs of moving or lack of time, meaning that both time and distance are barriers to participation.
Tier 2 - Synchronous Online
Students who choose to engage with the live f2f class through some sort of web-conference tool or other software are able to remove the barrier of distance because they may stay in their hometown (or just their home) yet still participate in a course or program.
Tier 3 - Asynchronous online
It is possible to record the activities and lecture in a f2f class and make it available for students to access those recordings at their own timing and their own location, thus defeating both barriers.
Tier 4 - Open education
The invitation for non-credit students to participate in accredited programs and courses extends the reach of f2f classroom experiences globally, allowing very remote students to participate at their own time and place and free of charge.
Access and Interaction
What may or may not be apparent is that the multi-access model described briefly above describes layers of increasing access, but at the cost of interaction between students and instructors. This makes sense because student-instructor interaction is very expensive and does not scale well. So if more people are going to be invited into a f2f classroom experience either synchronously or asynchronously, there will be less of the instructor's time that is available for 1v1 interactions.
It is also notable that the 'content' in the multi-access model remains the same through all the various tiers of access. There is a corpus of content that all students are learning, and the content doesn't change with each tier.
Solving the access/interaction paradox.
It is possible that there is a way to satisfy all of the key characteristics of high quality multi-access learning.
- High Levels of expert interaction.
- Multiple access points.
- Centralized content.
- Global reach.
Like the model, there will be tradeoffs between access and interaction, but it is possible that the tradeoffs can be minimized by facilitating f2f interaction with a trained facilitator who leads students through specific prescribed learning activities while the domain expertise is provided asynchronously through text, audio, or video.
This may represent a fifth tier of the multi-access model. In terms of interaction, it could be considered to be between the current tier 1 & 2, as it is still f2f and synchronous and is highly interactive. But in terms of access, it may be somewhere between tiers 3 & 4 as universities may be able to extend their reach globally and still remain solvent.
I'm interested. Are you?