This was in response to an anonymous letter that appeared in a previous THE edition about the UKOU’s possible intention to close some of its regional centres.
Your anonymous correspondent who draws attention the potential closure of many of the OU’s regional centres regrets the loss of local presence. But there is another serious implication – the move will inevitably lead to less face-to-face teaching. The OU’s new VC has already called for the OU to become ‘more digital’.
Yet there is quite a lot of evidence that suggests that moving to exclusively online learning will have a strictly detrimental effect on student retention. There is a widespread belief in many distance institutions that some initial f2f contact is necessary to enhance subsequent 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 their 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 Korea has a far greater access to much higher speed internet than the UK.
If the OU does become ‘more digital’, then I’ve little doubt that its retention rates will continue to fall.