Best Practices

“Methods change but standards of quality endure.”  This often repeated dictum inspired the faculty, administration and learners of IOU Foundation to enter into a dialogue about best practices in adult distance education.  As part of its continuing quality assurance assessment, this virtual Foundation has set a goal to create guidelines that will address the structure and process of the innovative learning inherent to the learner-centered, adult-focused distance learning institution.  While subscribing to the belief that there is no one “best way” and those involved must trust the process, IOU Foundation recognizes that the on-going dialogue will help to document the institutional praxis, and inform the faculty peer review process and institutional quality assurance.

As a dispersed community of learners, many of whom have interests that cross conventional academic boundaries and disciplinary lines, IOU Foundation participates in a tradition of communal scholarship in unique ways.  Because independent, self-directed study can easily become isolating, IOU Foundation encourages and supports an ongoing dialogue between each learner and other members of the scholarly community.

IOU Foundation’s philosophy is that professional adult learners are to be actively engaged in the design of their academic programs and demonstrate the social relevance of their program activity.  Learning occurs through two-way and multidirectional communications.  The experiences and knowledge of all are valued and considered resources for learning.  IOU Foundation supports a co-learner relationship between the learner and his or her faculty member.  Co-learners can inspire, motivate, manage, and coach.

IOU Foundation advocates, not only for itself but also for the higher education community, learner-initiated learning and the search for more effective and productive ways to better serve the education needs of adult learning.  It seeks to produce graduates who, as a result of this education, will influence by example responsible change in and beyond the academy.

A faculty member who can operate within the context of being a co-learner is a unique type of educator.  This type of educator requires specific skills in co-learning to understand learners and contribute to their achievements.  The Foundation’s support of co-learning in distance learning is as imaginative as the learner, his or her faculty member and the supporting technology that is being used.

Co-learning refocuses the major emphasis of learning from competitive to cooperative.  We learn alone and by working with others.  Co-learning or cooperative learning promotes communication, not isolation, as well as individual accountability.  It reflects actions of those who know how to work together towards the same end, while taking individual paths to get there.  It requires the use of appropriate interpersonal and small group skills, useful for both work and study.

The triangular context of co-learning, adult learner needs and expectations, and distance education determined the best practices included in this manual.  The practices are placed under one of five areas:  1) institutional organization and governance, 2) institutional facilitation and faculty roles, 3) resources and delivery system, 4) learner support systems, and 5) institutional assessment in the virtual setting.

We have deliberately left the practices broad so that others might adapt them to their settings and contribute to them.

Areas of Best Practices

  1. Institutional Organization and Governance – the governance structure and institutional support for distance learning.
    a)    The governance structure is a balance between inclusiveness and accountability.  The input of all appropriate constituencies is sought.  This could include administration, faculty, learners, staff and alumni.  This insures commitment and ownership.
    b)    The governance structure includes ongoing faculty input on effective learner learning, quality control and evolving instructional strategies.  The input should be integrated with organizational objectives in a configuration that is beneficial for all.
    c)    The faculty governance system empowers the faculty to work in partnership with the administration in the assessment, planning and future of the Foundation.  It is grounded in collaboration, and within the context of IOU Foundation policies.  For this type of system to be effective an individual puts the group needs above one’s individual needs, desires and wants.  Individuals are responsible for their actions, demonstrate mutual respect, and are accountable to members of the group.
  2. Instructional Facilitation and Faculty Roles – faculty role and responsibilities in an adult learner-centered program; program content and design, and academic practices.
    a) Adults want to be self-directed and autonomous learners.
    They will draw on their own experiences and prior learning to serve as the basis for their new learning.  Faculty who are successful at facilitating this type of learning can demonstrate the following attributes:
    •    professional maturity about higher education and the world of work 
    •    literate and timely responsiveness
    •    research knowledge and ability to mentor within a variety of research traditions and protocols 
    •    content and experiential knowledge in areas of importance to institutional goals such as, social relevance of the learner’s work and interdisciplinary scholarship
    •    unbiased process of knowledge and approachability, with sensitivity to accountability and total integrity within a variety of professional realms and practice expectations
    b)    Faculty are skilled in being flexible.
    Significant for faculty and learners, and the role of the faculty is that faculty possesses the flexibility to be a co-learner while striving to mesh with knowledge areas practices, and extending them at important interfaces with other practice areas.
    c)    Faculty and learner work together towards the same purpose.
    This requires community, individual accountability and a relationship between the interactions and the learning.  Faculty flexibility to meet the learning style need of each learner, i.e., as needed telephone contact, access to frequent instruction-based emailing, very rapid document returns and feedback, and assurance that all learner questions are  answered.
    d)    Faculty are committed to Foundation policies.
    The faculty member is the learner’s primary contact with the Foundation.  Therefore, faculty is committed to knowing and diligently operating within the context of Foundation policies.
    e)    Faculty acknowledge, employ and encourage the use of various learning strategies, modes and styles, and various methods of demonstrating and documenting new learning used by learners.  (See Appendix A)
  3. Resources and Delivery System – technology, library resources, supplemental materials, and resources.
    a) The broadest possible resources accessible through electronic connections and contracts are used.
    b) Faculty and learner orientation sessions addressing functioning in a virtual academic setting, and how to make use of it based on their mode of facilitating and learning.
  4. Learner Support Services – admissions and registration.
    a) The admission process provides an evaluation of learning readiness to be successful in a virtual learning setting, to be an autonomous learner, and to put their experiences in an academic context.
    b) All records beginning with the admission process are electronically accessible to the appropriate individuals.  It is secure, thorough, and accurate.
    c) A centralized means, such as a community blackboard, for learner support questions, needs, and concerns.
  5. Institutional Assessment in the Virtual Setting – means of measuring quality of the academic process and its inputs.
    a.    Quality assessment is done by focusing on the learning process, which is individualized to each autonomous learner.  Assessing the process is based on differing learning assumptions and proposed outcomes for each learner to determine the effectiveness of the institution’s value, mission and philosophy.
    b.    The measure of institutional quality is that the individualized processes do produce quality outcomes, and that they are superior in a setting that is supportive of methodologies appropriate to the work.
    c.    External specialists who understand the academic process, and are willing to work within the framework of the academic process are engaged at appropriate junctures in the individualized process.  This legitimizes the process and the outcomes.
    d.    Faculty development is planned, constant and can take varying forms. (See Appendix B)
    e.    Assessment of faculty’s learner support is measured on the understandings established between the faculty member and the learner. 
    f.    Faculty members are evaluated on the performance of their learners.


Appendix A


The material below relates to the portion of the PhD Program known as Field(s) Proficiency. It includes a brief overview of some of the ways in which learners go about gaining new knowledge. These methods of gaining new knowledge are referred to as learning strategies, modes, and styles. This document also contains a list of some of the ways in which learners go about demonstrating or documenting the new learning they have acquired. The two lists are by no means meant to contain the full range of options which are open to learners to either gain new knowledge or to demonstrate their understanding, use, and incorporation of that new knowledge. You will notice that, in a few cases, the two lists overlap. The indication in those cases is that the very process of demonstrating new knowledge is in and of itself a method of gaining new knowledge. 
The material was compiled from research conducted for the Foundation’s Quality Assurance Committee. The information was gathered from all constituencies of the Foundation.

Learning Strategies, Modes, and Styles

  1. Independent study exploring subject areas without benefit of a mentor
  2. Guided independent study with a mentor
  3. Intuitive, free-associative exploration of topic area
  4. Taking courses at other institutions – both traditional and non-traditional – while enrolled in the PhD Program
  5. Going to conferences, workshops, and seminars
  6. Writing professional papers
  7. Designing curricula
  8. Practice teaching
  9. Review of the literature
  10. Classroom/on-line teaching
  11. Interviews
  12. Travel and reflection
  13. Video-taping their own processes of teaching or delivering services
  14. Self-assessment
  15. Developing their own syllabi for learning
  16. Phenomenological studies
  17. Comparative studies
  18. Peer days
  19. Attending conferences and writing journal notes
  20. Presenting professional papers at conferences
  21. Doing case studies
  22. Attending concerts, performances, and going to exhibits
  23. Serving in reverse mentorships where the learner is the mentor
  24. Regular attendance at professional gatherings
  25. Making discoveries and patenting them
  26. Field work
  27. Creating video and audio tapes
  28. Doing performances
  29. Creating works of fine or performance art
  30. Writing plays
  31. Generating cartoons, graphics or artwork with computers
  32. Conducting telephone surveys
  33. Writing newspaper columns
  34. Doing laboratory work
  35. Doing computer/on-line interactive work
  36. Discovering how policies can be designed and how they can be implemented
  37. Studying the infrastructures of organizations to create new ones
  38. Doing archival research to trace the roots of one’s or a group’s origins
  39. Living on-site in primitive settings
  40. Looking at everything one is doing in the program from the vantage point of “meta-awareness” so that all that happens relates to one’s program.

(Caveat: It is important to note that not all Core Faculty support all of these various learning strategies, modes and styles. It is a good idea to check your preferred learning style and desired learning strategies with those candidates for Core whom you are considering.)

Methods of Demonstrating and Documenting New Learning 
Formal written papers 
Results of literature searches 
Annotated bibliographies 
Teaching a course 
Creating course handouts 
Conducting workshops 
Giving a lecture
Conducting a series of Peer Days 
Creating works of art 
Dialoguing with committee members 
Notebooks validated by adjunct professors/external scholars 
Journal entries 
Case study analyses 
Developing training manuals 
Conducting Socratic dialogues 
Preparing testing protocols
Designing a questionnaire 
Written notes from museum visits
Audio/video recordings
Notes prepared regarding non-IOU Foundation conferences
Learner written self-evaluations 
Gallery exhibits of one’s work 
Video productions 
Poems written     
Grades received for courses completed at other institutions 
Computer software 
Receiving professional verification 
Certificates of achievement 
Commendations from employers 
Written and oral examinations by committee members, mentors, or consultants
Performances in the creative arts 
Transcribed learning from other institutions of higher learning 

(Caveat: The same caveat mentioned above regarding whether various Core Faculty support all these methods of demonstrating or documenting new work in Field(s) Proficiency also applies here.) 

(This material was gleaned from research conducted for the Quality Assurance Committee.) 

Appendix B

Faculty Development Framework

As a learner-centered, adult-focused distance learning Foundation, IOU Foundation’s faculty engages in three scholarship domains that are not mutually exclusive.  The domains are:  scholarship of teaching, scholarship of discovery and scholarship of service.1  Scholarship is research that is shared and scrutinized by others. Through the three domains, faculty addresses continuing challenges and circumstances they find intellectually stimulating and socially relevant.

IOU Foundation recognizes that engagement in the Scholarship of Teaching, the Scholarship of Discovery and the Scholarship of Service are expressions of self.  As such, during an academic career, faculty may shift emphasis among the three.  IOU Foundation acknowledges these seasonal shifts of emphasis and encourages flexibility among them.

Scholarship of Teaching
This domain is concerned with the specific roles the faculty plays for learners, potential learners and promoting IOU Foundation as a model teaching institution that promotes the guidance of learners.  “Teaching” is synonymous with learner guidance and co-learning.  Teaching encompasses the process of imparting knowledge and information effectively, facilitating independent learning, advising, mentoring, counseling, assessing, coaching and being examples of moral and ethical behaviors.  Through pedagogical research, faculty continually examines and shares ways learners learn and the means to assess their learning.

Scholarship of Discovery
This domain connects the process of research and the dissemination of it.  IOU Foundation fosters research and its dissemination–not just to advance knowledge for its own sake, but also to share knowledge with other scholars and inform constituencies beyond the walls of academe.  Dissemination of research can include, but is not limited to scholarly publications in journals and books, professional conference presentations, sharing research concepts with the general public, and artistic works based on discipline specific research (i.e., poetry, music, multimedia products).

Scholarship of Service
This domain speaks directly to the social relevance of IOU Foundation.  The focus is on faculty’s commitment to making a positive contribution to his or her world through scholarly efforts.  These activities might be an outgrowth of ongoing scholarly work or might be the catalyst for new scholarly areas.  Service includes, but is not limited to leading and/or facilitating IOU Foundation and its served communities in activities for change, improvement and/or enhancement, mentoring professional/novice scholars, consultative activities, policy analysis, lobbying, program evaluation, critiques of artistic productions, techniques or activities, book reviews, and program development.

1. Boyer, Ernest L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered:  Priorities of the Professoriate, A Special Report, Princeton:  The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Appendix C

Suggested Reading:
Hsu, Yu-Chiung & Shiue Ya-Ming(2005). The Effect of Self-Directed Learning Readiness on Achievement Comparing Face-to-Face and Two-Way Distance Learning Instruction, International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 32, no.2, p143.

Duffy, Thomas M. & Kirkley, Jamie R .eds. (2004). Learner-Centered Theory and Practice in Distance Education: Cases from Higher Education: NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, inc. 

Henson, Kenneth T. (2003).Foundations for Learner-Centered Education: A Knowledge Base.
Education Vol. 124. Issue 1 p. 5.
Patton, Michael Q. (2001). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods (3rd edition). Newbury Park:Sage Pubs. 

Yoonkyeong, Nah (1999). Can a Self-Directed Learner Be Independent, Autonomous and Interdependent?: Implications for Practice, Adult Learning, Vol. 11. 

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