The role of open and distance learning in institutional transformation: The Polytechnic of Namibia experience.
08 Sep 2014

Open learning through distance education has come to be accepted as a well-recognised mode of education and training relevant to, and necessary for meeting the emerging demands of the Namibian society. Areas until now unreached by the conventional education system are gradually being taken care of by the open learning system in Namibia. This paper reports on the changed nature of the role of universities in developing countries. Specifically, the author argues that the Polytechnic of Namibia, while remaining a university of academic excellence and creative thought, was prepared to transform its conventional role of transferring knowledge to the number of students it could accommodate in classrooms. The Polytechnic of Namibia, through its Centre for Open and Lifelong Learning, has become within the short period of ten years an institution that seeks to provide knowledge and academic expertise to a much wider community than could be reached through on-campus teaching. The Polytechnic of Namibia can now, through distance learning techniques and open learning philosophies, reach out to the whole community in which it serves. This required not only new initiatives and approaches to teaching and delivering degrees, but also an acceptance that the most sophisticated concepts can be taught in formats that off-campus students can understand. The Polytechnic of Namibia transformed into a truly dual-mode university, recognising the equal importance of open and lifelong learning programmes to the more conventional programmes of full-time on-campus studies and research. Through its Centre for Open and Lifelong Learning the Polytechnic of Namibia indicates that open and distance learning has the ability to provide a rich learning environment in a flexible, effective and interactive manner, provided careful design and implementation approaches are adopted. This paper specifically examines the recent initiatives and the major design and implementation strategies at the Centre for Open and Lifelong Learning. The author concludes that the Centre’s initiatives have clearly proven that there can be little doubt that instructional design and provision of sound administrative and academic support can effectively meet the training needs of off-campus students and is at the centre of quality distance education.