Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

What should be included and what should be excluded in a guide on open and flexible teaching and learning?

Robert Fox, Allan Herrmann and Anna Boyd
Teaching Learning Group
Curtin University of Technology


Designing Study Materials was first published in 1990 with a second edition in 1992. The Western Australian Distance Education Consortium (WADEC) publication has been a guide and benchmark for staff developing distance education materials at Curtin, Edith Cowan and Murdoch Universities.

At Curtin, the Guide was a frequently quoted text by both academic staff developing materials and by the para-pedagogues - instructional designers, educational developers, editors and desk-top-publishers who assist academic staff in the design and development of courses and in administering and managing the distance education program. A copy of the guide was sent to all academic staff involved in the development of DE materials. The Guide was also used by instructional designers in workshops and in one-to-one sessions with staff preparing distance materials. All Heads of Schools who had a distance education profile received a copy of the Guide. Between 1992 and 1994, 450 copies of the Guide were given to staff across the University, mostly but not exclusively to staff involved in the development of distance programs. However, due to differences between the three universities, topics important to Curtin staff, were omitted. e.g. study load/ credit point benchmark (Curtin Calendar, p.63) and the University Academic Board Policy on Unit Outlines (Document # UAB 67/95), references to the Distance Education User Group (DEUG) and Curtin's Distance Education Roles and Responsibilities Guidelines.

By 1994, the Guide needed to be supplemented by an additional set of papers, known as the Distance Education User's Pack. These additional papers presented information more specific to the needs of Curtin staff. By 1995, the existing WADEC publication was out of print and inadequate numbers of copies remained for distribution to staff authoring new unit materials.

In the same year, the authors proposed to review the 1992 Guide with assistance from teaching staff and to develop a new guide that was tuned to Curtin staff needs. An application for money was proposed and funds were granted to carry out the work in 1996.

Staff from teaching schools were invited to participate in reviewing the existing Guide in their own teaching environment and context, reflecting on it's use and effectiveness and then to work with the authors to propose changes in order to produce a Guide that more accurately catered for the perceived needs of staff developing and teaching distance courses.


In Western Australia, a consortium was formed between the three institutions with distance education commitments: Murdoch, Curtin and the Western Australian College of Advanced Education (now Edith Cowan).
The Western Australian Distance Education Consortium (WADEC) was established by the State in 1989 to improve the provision of external studies through universities. WADEC is recognised by the Commonwealth Government as one of eight Distance Education Centres (DECs). (Director, WADEC in Herrington et al., p.(i), 1992)
Arrangements between the institutions ensured that as funds came into the universities from the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET), 25% of each university's distance education Equivalent Full Time Student Unit or EFTSU commitment was forwarded to WADEC. The remaining 75% of DEET funded DE EFTSU was given directly to the institutions. The 25% DE EFTSU funding was allocated for the design, development and production of distance courses and study materials, the 75% was for funding the 'delivery' of distance education, including the printing and duplication of study materials and all tutoring and marking costs. WADEC then contracted staff within the universities to develop distance courses, units and study materials using the 25% DEET funded EFTSU.

WADEC defined its role to:

WADEC commissioned the production of the Guide and influenced its design and development especially in the following areas:

Theories Supporting The Wadec Guide

The dominant theory influencing instructional design staff who developed the WADEC Guide was based on Gagne's Events of Instruction. Gagne is described by Laurillard as the 'undisputed father of the field of instructional design' (1993, p. 72) and by Romiszowski (1988) as a central figure influencing all instructional design theories.

Gagne developed principles of instructional design for generating teaching strategies in his book Conditions of Learning (1977). His events offered an essentially 'common-sense' classification of 'what there is' (Laurillard, p.73) and his 'systems approach' is seen as a 'logical extension' of programmed instruction and teaching machines (Olsen & Bass, 1982). Laurillard states that his approach 'lacks holistic understanding of student learning' (Laurillard, p.74), especially with the exclusion of discussion concerning the context and the cultural base of the learners and the learning environment.

Gagne's work begins with definitions of general types of human capabilities that are learned: intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, verbal information, etc. He developed a classification of what happens in the learning process. These he describes as learning events which are theoretical constructs, generated by experimental studies in cognitive psychology. Through the four editions of his book, the theory supporting his conditions of learning shifted from cognitive psychology to that of information processing theory as it's empirical base (Laurillard, 1993, p.74).

Gagne's nine events of instruction include the following: activating; motivation; informing learner of the objective; directing attention; stimulating recall; providing learner guidance; enhancing retention; promoting transfer; eliciting performance; and providing feedback. These events are described and a sample of study materials which incorporate them are included in the WADEC Guide.

The WADEC Guide provided this single applied theory. It was suggested that this systematic approach could then be transferred into any subject area and used to produce quality distance study materials for any student group.

Using The Wadec Guide

Staff from teaching schools were invited to participate in reviewing the WADEC Guide, and to develop and trial new ideas in their own distance teaching environment and context and to reflect on the usefulness and effectiveness of these developed sections. Feedback would then be shared by various staff and the results would be incorporated into notes used to develop new ideas that would be of benefit to other teaching staff involved in distance education. In this sense 'triggered by features of the practice situation, undertaken on the spot, and immediately linked to action'. (Schoen, 1983, p. 308)

Considering A New Guide

Certain sections of the Guide were considered useful and would continue to be relevant to staff developing distance education if they were 'updated' to include new developments in technology and new approaches to distance education. However, in general, much of the Guide was not read, nor were most sections thought particularly useful to either 'experienced' or relatively inexperienced distance educators. There was a sense that the Guide was too long and that there was no time nor inclination to read all or many of the ninety pages of the Guide. Any new Guide should be short, it should have connections to other related areas of interest, there should be examples of distance materials in a variety of subjects, and that the principled instructional design approach provided in the Guide should be supplemented by other approaches and strategies.

The new Guide should include a more holistic picture of distance education and not to concentrate solely on the development of courses and materials. The new Guide should also include links to specific initiatives and information sources, for example, the web-based Curtin Learning Link and to the Distance Education Handbook and Distance Education Roles and Responsibilities Guide as well as links to the Academic Registrar's Office, the Library, Bookshop, etc.

Towards A Working Model

The production of a new guide was also questioned as a number of existing guides from other institutions were freely available. The group concluded that providing a variety of strategies with samples of Curtin produced materials, audio commentaries and stories from Curtin's distance education 'community of scholars': teaching staff, instructional designers and students with links to information about the Curtin distance education program, for example, the Distance Education User's Group (DEUG), distance education peer support register, etc. were key features of the new guide. It was these contextual and extended components that made the development of the Curtin Guide worthwhile. The term 'guide' was questioned and considered problematic but for convenience it was decided to keep to this term until later in the project. The group's findings were strengthened by instructional design staff reflecting on how they had used the WADEC Guide as a reference point in workshops and in one-to-one meetings with staff developing distance courses. However, the Guide was never adequate and additional papers and samples of 'ready-made' study materials were used to provide teaching staff with a number of alternative strategies and ideas to consider in their distance courses or unit. It was also apparent that the artificial divide between 'development' and 'delivery' stages of distance education was problematic, both for the unit developers, teachers and instructional design staff and ultimately the students. Fragmentation of distance education into an industrial production model created boundaries between activities that needed to be linked closely to each other and to broader concerns outside the immediate content of the course. At the pragmatic level alone, the print-based materials in the development stage of production needs to be linked to the delivery stage which might include web-based electronic discussion groups and connections with sites external to the institution.

Neats And Scruffies

In considering a revised Guide, we looked for an alternative model and a theory that more accurately reflected our work practices and the changing needs of our institution. Murphy and Lentell's 1993 adaptation of Serviovanni's (1989) 'Neats' and 'Scruffies' seemed to reflect accurately, the dichotomy we currently faced. In essence, the difference between Neats and Scruffies are as follows: the Neats allow theory to prescribe practice, while the Scruffies consider that theory should only inform practice. The relative positions taken by Neats and Scruffies, have been summarised by Murphy and Lentell (1993) in the following table.

The Neat PositionThe Scruffy Position
Theoretical knowledge is superordinate to practice. Theoretical knowledge is subordinate to practice.
The conditions of practice are reliability, predictability and stability. The conditions of practice are uncertainty, instability, complexity and value conflicts.
Theory and research are directly and linearly linked to professional practice the former drives the latter and thus knowledge is superordinate to the professional and designed to prescribe practice. Professional practice is characterised by reflection, action and reflection episodes theory and research comprise only one source of knowledge that is to inform but not to prescribe practice.
Professionals bring to their practice a set of standardised skills linked to a series of scientifically verified standard practice treatments.

The professional then searches the context in which he or she works, carefully diagnosing and characterising contingencies and situations according to predetermined and standardised protocols.

Professionals seek to maximise certain (often competing) values within a highly dynamic context, with costs and benefits of pattern emphases changing from moment to moment.
Scientific truth and scientific theory can be applied directly to problems of professional practice the aim is to establish the one best analysis of a problem, the one best way to practise, given existing scientific knowledge. The task is not to pigeon-hole discrete outcomes and apply standard practice treatments, but to 'ride the wave' of the pattern as it unfolds theoretical knowledge is not used to prescribe but to inform intuition and to enhance professional judgement.
Murphy and Lentell (1993)

In reviewing Murphy and Lentell's model, the writers of the WADEC Guide may be seen as being closer to a neat position than a scruffy position. The WADEC Guide offered a prescriptive theory - Gagne's events of instruction and indicated direct and linear links of theory to practice (Gagne, Briggs & Wager, 1988). (Reigeluth, 1983) states:

Instructional design is the linking science - a body of knowledge that prescribes instructional activitions to optimize desired instructional outcomes, such as achievement and effect. (p.5)
From pages 27-35 in the WADEC Guide, the essential nine events of instruction are described and illustrated with examples and on pages 36-43, the study materials from a fictitious teaching unit has the events applied to it. The theory here is clearly superordinate to practice and the practice is seen as predictable, reliable and stable and that clearly defined objectives presented in behavioural terms will ensure learners acquire the targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes. Yet spelling out objectives cannot predict what meanings potential learners will bring to the learning situation. Instructional design theory, applied to practice, without taking various individual interpretations, social, cultural, political, economic and contextual issues, etc., has limited effective use.

The WADEC Guide provides a number of standardised and predetermined protocols for the development of distance study materials. The components of a distance unit are defined as normally including:

Though now, especially with changes in technology and the advent of computer mediated communications and other new technological developments, materials need be less rigorously structured.
The new computer mediated communications and telecommunications technologies are the .... (media to) ... which distance education is most attracted. (Evans, p.259)
and computers have the potential to
empower academic and student to heightened creativity and productivity in preparing text, seeking out research data and communicating with peers. (Renner, p.285)
The WADEC Guide provides the dominant model to the design of instructional materials to the exclusion of the scruffy approach that describes much of our own work experiences which mostly start with the individual staff members, listening to what they plan to do, what they hope to achieve, how they want to interact with their students and considering their individual needs, providing a range of strategies and trying to become more familiar with their students. The later occurs increasingly as we become involved in corresponding with students through computer mediated communications and through intermittent written and verbal communication. Hence each situation had to be treated separately as each situation is distinctly different.

Streibel applied Grundy's interpretation of Habermas' theory of technical and practical human interests to instructional design (Streibel, 1993) . He stated that:

instructional theories do not determine their instructional practice in any significant way' as 'teachers, (or human learners) [are] situated in an ongoing context that requires continual judgement. (Streibel, 1993, p.142)
He goes on to cite Grundy (1987) who
summarised this position very well when she stated that 'theoretical explanations (e.g., theories of instruction) ... [have to be] grounded in the reality of teachers' experiences' (p.3). The same is true of instructional designers and, for the relationship of theories of learning and the lived reality of human learners. (Streibel, 1993)
In this sense, we are using a 'practical human interest' approach rather than a 'technical' or 'transformative' approach to designing instruction.

In our experiences, attempts to apply rigorous prescriptive instructional design theories of, for example, Gagne and Reigleluth, do not result in satisfactory outcomes.

On reflection, the practice of instructional design staff at Curtin then is seen as full of variation and uncertainties, with conflicting needs that require individual attention and more dialogue between all parties involved. This practice is unlike the approach forwarded in the WADEC Guide that tended to concentrate on subject content and structure and to treat learners as uncomplex and unambiguous objects.

In general, we are more reflective and less prescriptive than we were a few years ago. We are more influenced by Schoen's work (1983 & 1987) and more scruffy than neat and finally more influenced by the culture and environment which encourages reflective practice.

Based on an alignment with the scruffy position and through a reflective and iterative process, through workshops, individual consultation, interviews and talking to distance students, the new guide has started to take shape - amoebic though it might be - based on a more democratic consultation process with staff. The process is taking longer than expected as the 'product' is informed less by theory and prescription than by reflection, action, reflection cycles and an attempt to incorporate a more holistic approach to distance education teaching and learning.


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Herrington, J., Fox, R., Gillard, G. & Rainford, J. (1992). Designing study materials: A guide for authors and desk-top publishers. Perth: Western Australian Distance Education Consortium.

Gagne, R. M. (1977). Conditions of learning. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston.

Gagne, Briggs, & Wager. (1988). Principles of instructional design. (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston.

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Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking university teaching. A framework for the effective use of educational technology. Routledge: London.

Minutes of the WADEC Distance Education Heads meeting, Interpretation of the memorandum establishing WADEC, Functions of WADEC 9.0, p.3, 26 April, 1990.

Murphy, D. (1993). What profession? In Parer, M. S. (ed.), Unlocking Open Learning. Gippsland: Monash Distance Education Centre.

Murphy, D., & Lentell, H. (1993). Neats and Scruffies: Approaches to Quality in Open and Distance Education. Paper presented at the Quality assurance in open and distance learning conference: European and International perspectives. Cambridge.

Olsen, J. R. & Bass, V. B. (1982). The application of performance technology in the military: 1960-1980. NSPI Journal, (July/August), pp. 32-36.

Reigeluth, C. M. (ed.) (1983). Instructional Design Theories and Models: An Overview of their Current Status. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M. (ed.) (1987). Instructional Theories in Action: Lessons Illustrating Selected Theories and Models. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Renner, W. (1995). Post-Fordist visions and technological solutions: Educational technology and the labour process. Distance Education, 16 (2), 284-301.

Romiszowski, A. (1988). The selection and use of instructional media. New York: Kogan Page.

Schoen, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Schoen, D. A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1989). Mystics, neats and scruffies: Informing professional practice in educational administration. Journal of Educational Administration, 27(2), 7-21.

Streibel, M. J. (1993). Instructional design and human practice: What can we learn from Grundy's interpretation of Habermas' theory of technical and practical human interests? In R. K. Muffoletto, N.K. (Ed.), Computers in education: Social, political and historical perspectives. Gesskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press.

Please cite as: Fox, R., Herrmann, A. and Boyd, A. (1997). What should be included and what should be excluded in a guide on open and flexible teaching and learning? In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p111-117. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/fox2.html

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