Distance Education
Vol. 15 No. 1 1994

Applying learning and instructional strategies in
open and distance learning

Som Naidu

This paper is about the application of learning and instructional strategies in open and distance learning settings. First, a brief comment is made on the nature of open and distance learning and also teaching and learning in such settings. This is followed by a brief discussion of the impacts of particular types of learning and instructional strategies on learning. A framework is presented for applying learning and instructional strategies in open and distance learning contexts, and the translation of this framework into an instructional transaction that offers a generic plan for developing instruction.

This is, therefore, a conceptual paper. It discusses a theoretical framework for applying learning and instructional strategies that is currently being implemented in the design and development of instruction for an on-line (electronic) teaching-learning environment. The results of that implementation will be reported at a later date.

Distance education

Distance education refers to various forms of educational activity in which learners are physically apart from the teacher or the teaching institution for much of the teaching and learning process (Rumble, 1989). It is this feature of distance education that distinguishes it from conventional classroom-based education. Since much of what is proposed in this paper has relevance to both open and distance learning, the term distance education (hereafter DE) is used in this paper to include open learning.

Distance education places greater emphasis on guided independent study on the part of the learner, without eliminating the possibility of some face-to-face contact, either between the teacher and the learners, or the learners themselves. Hence the more face-to-face contact there is in distance education programmes the 'less distant' they are called, and conversely the less face-to-face contact there is in such programmes, the 'more distant' they are called. In this manner, certain forms of computer-based and computer-managed instruction can be considered distance education activity.

The greatest challenge for DE institutions, therefore, is the variety of functions they must conduct - which call for an equally large number of organisational styles. While running production systems and operating course materials warehouses may be best done through the rigour of industrial processes, functions such as the creation of DE course materials by course teams, as well as by individuals, require the most modern forms of project and personnel management and skill in systematic instructional materials design. In the same manner, organising the information flows necessary to support effective tutoring and counselling for DE learners is also a complex task.

In the following sections of this paper these implications of DE activity on its teaching and learning processes, instructional materials design and development, and DE learners are briefly discussed.

Teaching and learning.

At the heart of the educational process lies the quality of teaching and learning activity that goes on. In conventional face-to-face instruction this is facilitated by the presence of the teacher, student peers on-site and the feasibility of classroom-based interaction. Oakeshott (1967) has referred to the act of teaching as the deliberate and intentional initiation of learners into the world of human achievement, and learning as the result of communication from the teacher. In this manner, teaching is viewed as a reciprocal act that is impossible in the absence of learners. In conventional educational systems, this reciprocity is obviously possible and evident - because if students are not present in classrooms then teaching cannot occur.

In DE institutions this sort of facility for interface between students and teachers and among students does not occur naturally. Oakeshott's notion of teaching and learning is, therefore, inappropriate in DE where the teaching acts are separated in time and place from the learning acts. The learning materials being used by students could have been developed several years ago, and, perhaps, in another part of the world. Moreover, the developers of the study materials and those who may be using it to teach, or who may be assessing students' learning from it, are not necessarily or usually the same persons. The study materials that are developed belong to the institution and teaching becomes institutionalised. Learning is the responsibility of the learner, although part-time staff are usually available to support their learning process.

Materials development.

Since many of the instructional activities commonly associated with conventional face-to-face instruction, such as classroom discussion and immediate and direct feedback, are not easy to provide in the DE context, the role of the instructional materials that are prepared in advance of the learning activity is especially important. Indeed the quality of the teaching and learning process in DE is dependent on the quality of the study materials.

The development of high quality instructional materials for DE is a labour intensive and costly affair, and draws upon a wide range of expertise that is not normally found in the repertoire of skills of any one person. Consequently some variation of a team approach to the process is strongly recommended and often adopted (Shaw and Taylor, 1984). Several approaches to course teams to suit different organisational circumstances have been proposed in the DE arena, and discussed by Holmberg (1983), Mason and Goodenough (1981) and Smith (1980).

The dynamics of developing study materials within the context of a team has numerous implications for its members. These range from faculty concerns about losing their control of course content to the day-to-day management of the developmental task by the team chairperson. These and many other concerns of DE course development teams have been discussed extensively in the distance education literature (Hawkridge, 1979; Lewis, 1971a, 1971b, 1971c; Riley, 1984a, 1984b, 1984c). Training of staff engaged in the development of DE course materials is necessary. Concerns of staff in this regard, and some possibilities for coping with them, have been explored by Naidu (1987; 1988), and Kember and Mezger (1990). DE study materials replace the teacher in more than the subject matter alone (Jenkins, 1990). Therefore, the materials must be designed in such a way that they provide a substitute for the dialogue possible in the conventional classroom situation, and that it is not just a matter of possessing a good writing style.

The materials, once developed, are considered self-instructional, and, upon receipt of these packages, students are expected to be able to progress with their study independently, with the least amount of additional support. Faced with this notion of minimal or no direct contact with students, once the course materials are developed and out in the hands of the students, DE course developers are forced to preconceive the entire teaching and learning process, as well as possible, long before any of it takes place. That process is often very labour-intensive and includes a consideration of various aspects of the presentation of content, activation of the learning process and the assessment of learning.

Distance learners.

Distance learners, by and large, are isolated or semi-isolated students whose concept of going to school is limited to their study materials, their study space, mailbox and/or their telephone (Moore, 1986; Wedemeyer, 1981). As such, their opportunities for developing study skills and cognitive strategies that are appropriate for an efficient and effective learning process are limited. For many students the result is disenfranchisement, frustration and in many cases, dropout (Sweet, 1986).

However, the separation of the teaching acts from the learning acts means that for the most part of their learning activity, learners do not have to be present at any one place or time. As such, learners have greater control over their learning and the choice to manage it in a manner that best suits them. As a result, especially for those already in the workforce, learning is more easily accommodated into an already full, daily programme of activities. The disadvantage of this kind of flexibility with one's learning activity is that the learning task usually suffers from: (a) procrastination; (b) lack of peer group support; (c) lack of access to bookstores and library facilities; (d) lack of support from instructors; and (e) lack of feedback. Moreover, not all who choose to seek education via the DE mode have all that it takes to manage and conduct a successful learning experience on their own, especially when trying to combine it with paid employment and/or homemaking.

Learning and instructional strategies

The pervasiveness of differences in learner performance in most instructional settings (including distance education) is evidence of the fact that there are, inter alia, different ways of going about learning. These ways of going about learning have been commonly referred to as learning strategies, cognitive strategies, study habits or approaches to studying. If particular learning strategies tend to be more effective for some learners and with certain kinds of subject matter, then it would seem appropriate to investigate if better learning and retention techniques can be taught.

Rigney (1978) describes a learning strategy as embodying the operations and procedures that learners use to acquire, retain, and retrieve different kinds of information. A learning strategy, therefore, may be conceptualised into two parts: (a) an orienting task for inducing learners to perform particular kinds of operations and which may be either prescribed by the instructional system or embedded in the instructional materials, and (b) one or more representational or self-directional learning capabilities which may also be either prescribed by an instructional system or generated by the learner.

Rigney proposed that, if learning strategies can be considered as either designer-imposed or learner-generated, then there are two ways in which cognitive processes can be enhanced with the help of instructional strategies to ensure maximum benefit for learners. These are as embedded strategies and detached strategies. Embedded strategies are not explicitly identified independently of content. Instead, the instructional materials are designed to coerce learners into using particular processing resources in order to accomplish the orienting tasks that have been specified. Examples of these kinds of strategies would be factual or higher-order inserted and post-questions, instructional activities such as peer group discussions and writing and/or reading homework assignments. These would engage and direct learners into mental processing of specific aspects of their subject matter. These kinds of instructional strategies are commonly used in the design of print-based instructional materials in most DE settings and they have been found to influence cognitive processing capabilities of learners positively.

Detached instructional strategies, on the other hand, are applied independently of the subject matter and designed to teach learners or encourage them to use one or more learning activities in the process of learning. Examples of these strategies would be use of metaphors and/or analogies of concepts represented in the course content, concept and cognitive mapping. The instructional materials are designed in such a manner as to induce learners to apply particular cognitive processing resources in order to perform the specified tasks. These strategies are somewhat harder to teach and may require extensive practice before their effects are transferable to other situations. As such, they are less frequently applied in DE settings, although their effects on cognitive performance have reportedly been quite high.

The underlying premise of these approaches is that it is desirable, and also possible to teach students how to be more effective as learners in the acquisition, retention, and retrieval of information, as well as in the performance of given tasks in their materials. This is certainly not to imply that embedded or detached instructional strategies will work for all learners, all the time. It does say, however, that teaching learners how to learn and to retrieve what has been learned ought to be the primary concern of instructional systems and instructional designers.

Rigney has suggested that the application of instructional strategies in such a manner could compensate for a lower capacity for the acquisition, retention, and retrieval of information. Higher performers naturally tend to use more effective learning strategies than do lower performers. Therefore, training lower performers to acquire more effective learning strategies should enhance their acquisition, retention and retrieval capabilities. Thus, detached instructional strategies may be more beneficial to higher achievers who are more likely to be able to direct themselves through their tasks, and embedded strategies may be more useful to lower achievers as they are more likely to need more direct orienting tasks and greater support from the instructional systems. The best application scenario would seem to be to use both embedded and detached instructional strategies together and also selectively with different kinds of content so that learner deficiencies are compensated and their proficiencies optimised.

Existing work on the application of instructional strategies in DE has emanated from different philosophical and psychological viewpoints. For instance, Spencer (1980), Elton (1980), and Coldeway and Spencer (1982) have argued that Keller's Personalised System of Instruction has clear advantages for designing and managing DE systems. In contrast, Holmberg (1986) has argued that a cognitive orientation and strategies that enhance deeper-level processing of content, and which accommodate individual learning styles, best fits the DE context.

These are useful perspectives also but they represent only general approaches to the instructional process and do not offer specific guidelines for the application of learning and instructional strategies within the constraints of teaching at a distance. This paper argues that behaviour-analytic, cognitive and systems approaches are all useful perspectives for conceptualising the conditions of active learning.

Table 1 lists several instructional strategies that have the potential for serving the purposes suggested by Rigney described above. The listed strategies were selected for their suitability for application in print-based DE environments. They are arranged in a four-art framework conceptualising the instructional process as developed by Bernard, Naidu and Amundsen (1991).

Table 1. Effect sizesa for instructional strategies of relevance to DE
  • Strategies (primary nature of sample b)
Content presentation
  • Advance and graphic organisers (HE)
  • Specification of objectives (ML)
  • Instructional illustrations (ML)



Activation of learning
  • Student participation (ML)
  • Reading + study skills training (E/S)
  • In-text (inserted) questions (HE)
  • Homework (ungraded) (E/S)

up to 1.00
up to 1.00


Social support
  • Co-operative Learning (ML)
  • Peer group influence (E/S)


Feedback and correction
  • Feedback (overall) (ML)
  • One-to-one tutorial instruction (ML)
  • Feedback (corrective) (ML)
  • Homework (graded) (ES)

up to 1.42


a Effect size: ES = µTreatment-µControl/sdControl.
b Key to nature of sample: E = Elementary;
S = Secondary; E/S = Elementary and Secondary; HE = Higher Education; ML = Mixed Levels

The index of effect size for each of the selected instructional strategies in Table 1 represents the magnitude of the effect of the instructional treatment. An effect size is a measure of the strength of a treatment condition against a control condition. An index of effect size is derived by subtracting the mean of the control condition from the mean of the experimental condition, and dividing this raw difference between the means with the standard deviation of the control condition for Glass's ES, and by a pooled standard deviation for Cohen's sd. The result of this computation is a z-score (i.e. a standardised score) which indicates the number of standard deviations a treatment condition has outperformed or underperformed a control condition. All of the effect sizes in the analyses are then averaged to produce a mean effect size for the treatment condition. For example, the average effect size for advance and graphic organisers in Table 1 (drawn from a higher education sampleÑHE) is .20 which translates into a raw score of 58 per cent. The positive value of this mean effect size (.20) indicates that the presence of advance and graphic organisers has a beneficial impact on learning in comparison with their absence from such instructional situations.

1. Content presentation strategies

These include advance and graphic organisers, objectives and instructional illustrations and they comprise the most commonly adopted strategies in DE settings. Their primary role is to help the presentation and organisation of subject matter. Their influence on learning achievement, as shown by their effect sizes reported alongside, is rather small.

2. Activation strategies

These include student participation, reading and study skills training, in-text questioning and upgraded homework. These are strategies and arrangements that are provided by the designer or the instructor and are intended to help initiate and sustain learning activity. They are less commonly applied in DE settings and with varying degrees of intensity. The effect sizes for some of them are reportedly quite high.

3. Social support strategies

These include co-operative learning and peer group influence (institutionalised attempts only). Normally these are difficult and expensive to arrange, and their effect sizes have been varied.

4. Feedback and correction strategies

These include graded homework, generalised forms of feedback, corrective feedback in the context of mastery learning, and one-to-one tutoring. These strategies are concerned with assessing and evaluating learner performance. Although these strategies have influenced achievement substantially, they are the least commonly applied instructional strategies in DE settings.

A Conceptual Framework

The remainder of this paper is devoted to the application of the above conceptual framework to the development of instruction. This is achieved with the translation of the framework into an 'instructional transaction'. The term, instructional transaction, was first coined by Merrill, Li and Jones (1992, 1993) to refer to 'patterns of learner-instructor interactions far more complex than a single response of display which are designed to enable the learner to acquire a certain kind of knowledge or skill' (p. 1). In this paper, the term, instructional transaction, refers to a complete instructional event comprising the presentation of instructional stimuli, elicitation of response(s) from learners, assessment of that response or responses, provision of feedback and remediation, and evaluation of the impact of that instructional event.

Figure 1 is a graphic illustration of this instructional transaction (i.e. a complete instructional event). The event is constructed using the following five steps. These are presentation of instructional content or subject matter, activation of student learning, assessment of learning outcomes, provision of feedback and remediation, and evaluation of the impact of the instructional event. Seen as a single act these five steps in the event comprise an instructional transaction.

The building blocks of the instructional transaction presented in Figure 1 are derived from existing research as well as accumulated wisdom on the processes of teaching and learning. To a large extent, it may seem that the transaction will unfold in a linear manner. This means the presentation of content is followed by activation of learning, which, in turn, is followed by assessment of learning outcomes and so on. In reality though, the transaction cannot, and should not, be entirely linearly implemented. The activation of learning, for instance, is closely related to the strategies that are applied in the presentation of content. Similarly, the choice of assessment strategies is closely tied to strategies that have been used to present content and activate learning. In the same manner, outcomes of the evaluation exercise will affect all stages of the instructional transaction. As such then, the five stages in the instructional transaction are not only to be seen but utilised as a singular composite instructional event.

As shown in the transaction, an instructor's choice of strategies for presenting content, or activating student learning, or assessing learning outcomes etc. is determined by particular theoretical perspectives the instructor may hold on that step of the transaction. For example, an instructor may choose to approach the activation of the learning task from one or more, or indeed a combination of theoretical perspectives on learning. These may be a behavioural orientation, or a constructivist one, or a situated cognitive perspective.

Instructional transaction


Figure 1. Instructional transaction

Another factor that may influence one's choice and use of particular strategies for each step in the transaction is the nature of the instructional content. It seems that certain kinds of content are better presented with certain strategies as opposed to others. Conceptual content, for instance, is better presented using a general-to-detail or simple-to-complex sequencing format while factual information lends itself to instructional algorithms and flowcharting.

A third factor that will influence one's choice of strategy at each step of the instructional transaction is the culture and ecology of the learning context. This includes the delivery mode, learner characteristics, and issues like motivation, co-operation and competition that are likely to require differential types and kinds of attention from one context to the other.

The following sections of this paper will engage in some discussion of the dynamics of each step of the instructional transaction.

Content presentation

This refers to the presentation of instructional content (i.e. subject matter) to the learner using particular mode, media and strategies for structuring and presenting content. Choice of media, that is, whether to use print or non-print technologies, audio-video technology or multimedia systems will to some extent depend on the delivery mode. Mode of delivery here refers to whether one is engaged in open learning, distance education, face-to-face, or in a mixed-mode system. Costs of media and the logistics of implementation will also impact upon adoption or non-adoption of particular media. Choice of strategies for structuring and presenting content, on the other hand, will be determined mostly by nature of the content and, as explained earlier, a range of strategies might be applied depending on whether the content is conceptual, procedural or factual in nature.

Activation of learning

The presentation of instructional content must be followed with the activation of learning and the enhancement of learning capability. This involves selective use of instructional and learning strategies to advance learning, enhance learning capability and to compensate for any deficiencies there might be. As mentioned earlier, choice of these strategies will be determined not only by the theoretical perspectives one might hold on effective learning, but also, learner characteristics and the type of content or skill that is being learned.

The strategies selected may be instructor initiated or generated by the learner. Strategies that are instructor initiated are considered as 'mathemagenic' in nature, since they are designed to enable learners to acquire knowledge about the content or skill that is being delivered (Jonassen, 1991). This view is grounded in the belief that there is an objective reality or knowledge that learners can and do assimilate in their cognitive schema. Learners are not encouraged to make their own interpretations of what they perceive. Instead, it is the role of the instructor to interpret events and concepts for learners.

The alternative view is more learner centred arguing that reality is in the mind of the knower and that learners construct a reality based upon their own perceptions (Jonassen, 1991; Duffy and Jonassen, 1991). Strategies with this orientation are considered as being 'generative' in nature. Their emphasis is on how learners construct knowledge based upon their prior knowledge, mental structures and belief systems. This perspective, however, does not preclude the existence of objective knowledge or external reality. It simply claims that learners construct their own reality through interpretation of objective knowledge (Cognition and Technology Group, 1991).

Allied with the notion of generative processing are the concepts of constructivism and situation cognition. The concept of situated cognition is grounded in the belief that learning is most efficient and effective when it takes place within the context of realistic settings (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989). The roots of situated learning are grounded in constructivist philosophy and traceable to the concepts of experiential learning (Dewey, 1933), and problem-based learning (Köhler, 1925; Koffka, 1935).

Constructivists will argue that various forms of knowledge, including knowledge of strategic procedures, are applied more generally if these are constructed by learners than if explicitly taught to them. Moreover, that the construction of meaning leads to ownership. They will argue that, whenever possible, instructors should structure situations so that learners discover knowledge (i.e. facts, procedures and principles) for themselves, as opposed to being told or given it (see special issue of Educational Technology on Constructivism, September, 1991).

Using what Brown et al. call 'authentic tasks', situated learning enables students to immerse themselves in the culture of the subject matter, much like an apprentice carpenter is immersed on the building site with the master builder. Learning experiences are designed to engage learners into 'cognitive apprenticeships', which immerse them in the total culture or ecology of the subject matter that is being studied.

Assessment of learning outcomes

Learning and learner performance have to be appropriately assessed. Again, a wide range of strategies may be applied as part of this process. The choice of these will vary according to the intended learning outcomes and the learning tasks that were prescribed. For example, if the nature of the learning task was more collaborative, situated and distributed in its context, conventional methods of assessment of learning outcomes would be inadequate. These will need to be replaced by cognitive tasks and assessment procedures that can focus on the processes of learning, perception, and problem solving. In addition, assessment could no longer be viewed as an add-on to an instructional design or simply as separate stages in a linear process of pretest, instruction, and posttest. Assessment must become an integrated, on-going, and seamless part of the learning environment.

The entire instructional design process will need to be changed from a serial stage model in which assessment enters and leaves, to a model in which processes that serve as instructional stimuli also serve to provide data to a multivariate model. Such a model would then be able to provide important feedback to both the instructor and the learner.

Assessment focusses on the learning process as well as the learning products. For instance, if learning changes from direct instruction to situated learning the assessment of successful and less successful learners (or experts and novices within a domain) must change from an emphasis on right and wrong responses toward an emphasis on the information that each student perceives in the situations. Meanings that each student perceives could be detected by types of information to which they attend (e.g. replayed video scenes), paths taken towards solution, types of analogies and transfer that occur, and the types of errors that are made. These new sources of data will require more elaborate (multivariate and nonlinear) models.

Feedback and remediation

Any instructional system which views learning as a process of mutual influence between learners and their instructional resources must involve some feedback for, without feedback, any mutual influence is by definition impossible. From a review of research on effects of feedback in written instruction Kulhavy (1977) described four conditions of feedback: (a) that feedback corrects errors; (b) that the error-correcting action of feedback is more effective when it follows a response about which the learner felt relatively certain; (c) that the effectiveness of feedback is enhanced if it is delivered after the learner has made a response; and (d) that, if feedback is to be effective, its availability in advance of learner response must be controlled. It has been reported though that feedback delivered following learner response is beneficial only under controlled and somewhat artificial conditions (Kulik and Kulik, 1988). There is some evidence also that the amount of information in feedback is unrelated to its effects (Schimmel, 1983), and that feedback does not always increase achievement and is sometimes associated with decreased achievement (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik and Morgan, 1991).

From these general assessments of the effects of feedback, several conclusions can be drawn about conditions of feedback. Foremost among these is that feedback is not a unitary phenomenon and that it may differ in several ways. First, feedback may differ according to its intentionality. This refers to whether feedback was designed to inform learners about the quality and accuracy of their responses, or it happened to be an incidental consequence of the instructional environment. Intentional feedback is typically found in direct and expository instructional settings, although informal feedback in such contexts has an important function in instructional events such as peer group interactions and unassisted group simulations.

Intentional feedback can be further differentiated according to the manner in which it is delivered. It may be delivered via direct interpersonal communication between instructor and learners or between learners. Alternatively, intentional feedback may be delivered in mediated forms such as telephonic and computer-based communication systems. In any event, intentional feedback is highly specific and directly related to the performance of the task.

Secondly, feedback can be distinguished according to its target. Some feedback is primarily designed to influence affective learning capacities such as intrinsic motivation. Feedback may be directed at supporting self-regulated learning activity by cueing on to the self-monitoring processes of the learner. Most commonly, though, feedback is targetted at indicating whether learners have performed the specified tasks or applied the learned concepts and procedures correctly.

Thirdly, feedback is distinguishable according to its content, which is identifiable by: (a) load (i.e. the amount of information given in the feedback from yes-no statements to fuller explanations); (b) form (i.e. the structural similarity between information in the feedback compared to that in the instructional presentation); and (c) type of information (i.e. whether the feedback restated information from the original task, referred to information given elsewhere in the instruction, or actually provided new information.

Following from the above, and the work of their predecessors with feedback, Bangert-Drowns et al. (1991) developed a five-point model for conceptualising the effects of feedback. According to this model, learners come into an instructional context in some state which is manifested by their interests, goals, degree of self-efficacy, and relevant prior knowledge. Upon commencing instruction, search and retrieval strategies are activated during or following the process in numerous ways. Learners respond to these activities and evaluate their responses on the basis of subsequent feedback. After this response evaluation, learners are in a position to make adjustments to their knowledge, level of motivation, and assessment of self-efficacy.

Evaluation of instruction

The validity of an evaluation project, whether it is formative or summative, will be enhanced if it is undergirded by one or more theoretical orientation(s). This has to do with the function or purpose of the evaluation exercise (i.e. whether it is aimed at decision-making or assessment of the impact of the instruction on student learning).

In this section of the paper a variety of approaches to evaluation activity following from a review by Borich and Jemelka (1982) are briefly summarised. These are as follows:

Decision-oriented evaluation

Proponents of this approach to evaluation include Stufflebeam et al. (1971) and Provus (1971). The focus of this perspective is comparing 'what is' with 'what should be'. The approach has been criticised for its limited scope and lack of objectivity.

Value-oriented evaluation

This approach has been also described as the 'humanistic approach'. It stresses the value judgements made in evaluating programmes (i.e. the merit or worth of programmes). It is inherently humanistic in nature, focusses on the total effect of the programme, product or process and is sensitive to unknown or unintended programme effects. A notable exponent of this approach is Scriven (1973) who has proposed the idea of 'goal-free evaluation'.

Naturalistic evaluation

This approach aims at discovery and verification through direct observation, as in ethnography. It relies on impressionistic accounts of evaluators in situ who do not manipulate the conditions antecedent to their enquiry and they pose minimal constraints on the behaviour of their participants. There are a number of variations of the naturalistic approach.

Systems-oriented evaluation (Kaufman and English, 1979)

This approach basically identifies discrepancies between 'what should be' and 'what is', and uses these discrepancies to provide direction for programme development. It also seeks to determine whether the desired state has been achieved. Central to the systems approach is the blending of the humanistic and behaviouristic principles.

Utilisation-focussed evaluation (Patton, 1986)

The basic premises of this approach are as follows:

Depending on the perspectives adopted for evaluation, data may be collected with any one or more of a range of instruments including questionnaires, opinionnaires, checklists, attitude inventories, open-ended responses, individual and focus group interviews etc.

Concluding remark

A review of existing work on applying learning and instructional strategies in open and distance learning contexts reveals that much of it does not offer any specific guidelines to the developers of instructional materials. This paper attempts to address that deficiency by proposing a five-part framework called an 'instructional transaction'. The five parts in the transaction are one, presentation of instructional content; two, activation of student learning; three, assessment of learning outcomes; four, provision of feedback and remediation; and five, evaluation of the instructional effect.

These five parts of the transaction comprise the essential building blocks of an instructional event. They are derived from existing research on various elements of the teaching and learning process. Neglect in any one of these areas has the potential to weaken the instructional process and interfere with learning. On the other hand, careful attention to each of the five elements has the potential to produce strong instruction and enhanced learning capability.

Existing literature on the design and development of self-instructional study materials such as those required for open and distance learning is somewhat fragmented. The five-part framework proposed in this paper adds to this existing work by consolidating the bulk of it into a usable working strategy for instructional designers and course writers. The framework is general enough to include much of what is known about teaching and learning, and in this regard it can be seen as an 'instructional development shell' which offers the designer a developmental model to follow. It is also specific enough to provide the novice instructional designer with not only a developmental procedure but examples of specific learning and instructional strategies for actually building a piece of instruction.

This, then, is the principle contribution of the five-part framework and of the paper. The framework has to be used with the literature that is reviewed and summarised in the paper in order for it to be meaningful. The examples of learning and instructional strategies suggested for each of the phases of the transaction (see Figure 1) are certainly not exhaustive. One should add to it or delete from it depending on one's particular circumstances. Finally, while the five-part framework presented in Figure 1 might seem to represent the instructional process as a linear one, in fact, it isn't. The instructional process is an iterative one, and one that should be always learning from its own experiences, never in fact able to reach the ideal state or perfection, for there is no such thing as 'perfect instructional practice', only excellent instructional practice.


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