The anonymous letter writer who draws attention to the potential closure of many of the Open University’s regional centres regrets the loss of local presence (“The OU is closing doors”, Letters, 21 May). But there is another implication – the move will lead to less face-to-face teaching. The OU’s new vice-chancellor has already called for it to become “more digital”.
Yet there is evidence that suggests that moving to exclusively online learning will have a detrimental effect on retention. There is a widespread belief in many distance learning institutions that some initial face-to-face contact is necessary to enhance online work. For example, the Korean National Open University, where I worked a few years ago, insists that its students start their studies with a three-day face-to-face session. As it says in its student guide: “To overcome the limitations of distant education and to encourage interactions between faculty members and students and also among students, KNOU requires its freshmen to take face-to-face classes at its regional campuses”. This is despite the fact that South Korean students have greater access to higher speed internet than students in the UK.
If the OU does become “more digital”, then I have little doubt that its retention rates will continue to fall.
Centre for Distance Education, University of London