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Pioneer in Open and Distance Learning Becomes LIDC’s First Visiting Fellow

A leading academic with nearly 50 years of experience working to improve access to education has joined LIDC as its first Visiting Fellow. Dr Hilary Perraton brings his expertise promoting open and distance learning – flexible methods of teaching including online learning – to his new joint honorary appointment at LIDC and the Institute of Education. His work will include advising LIDC on its Distance Learning for Development programme, which encourages collaboration in the design, delivery and marketing of distance learning courses provided by its member Colleges.  “Joining LIDC and the Institute is like coming home, as I did my doctorate at what was then the IoE Department of Education in Developing Countries. And I value being in a centre which is straddling academic boundaries in the interests of development. My own research interests in international educational policy belong here”.
A distinguished career
Perraton’s notable achievements include setting up the Botswana Extension College (now Botswana College of Open and Distance Learning), establishing the International Research Foundation for Open Learning, and helping to create the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) - an intergovernmental organisation which helps developing nations improve access to quality education and training through distance-learning methods. He has worked in the UK and overseas – from Barbados to Pakistan – and much of his work has focused on international development. Perraton said: “Open and distance learning is attractive, to students here and overseas. One of its major advantages is flexibility. It is possible to study successfully for a University of London degree at home without having to raise the finance to live here.”
His career in open and distance learning began in 1964 when he became the administrator at the National Extension College (NEC), which delivers distance learning courses. It was set up as a pilot for the Open University. Perraton’s work at the NEC included setting up distance-learning courses for the UK which ranged from GCE O levels to programmes for playgroup leaders and potential primary-school teachers.

In the 1980s the increase in fees at UK universities for non-EU students reduced options for Commonwealth students. The Commonwealth Secretariat, where Perraton was working at the time, decided to explore the use of open and distance learning as an alternative kind of student mobility. That exploration, led by the historian Lord Briggs, and with Perraton doing in his words the "donkey work", resulted in the creation of CoL, which was inaugurated in 1989 to encourage the development and sharing of open learning, and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.

Perraton is a historian by background and in 2009 published Learning abroad: a history of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) to mark the plan’s fiftieth anniversary. He is continuing to research changing practice and policy towards international students.

Work overseas
Perraton has worked extensively overseas, particularly within the Commonwealth. In Botswana from 1973 to 1975, and in the very different context of Pakistan in the early 1980s, with colleagues he devised open and distance learning approaches for rural communities in topics that ranged from the work of village development committees in Botswana to rural electrification in Pakistan. Perraton also worked in Barbados as the Educational Planner for Distance Education at the University of the West Indies from 1994 to 1995. Back in Britain he made use of his knowledge of international education as a member of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission from 2002 to 2009.

Changing trends in distance learning
During his career, Perraton has seen a fundamental shift from new distance learning courses largely taught through print and through Open University television programmes to courses using the latest online collaborative tools. He pointed out the paradox of this reality: as distance learning has become more accessible and popular through online learning, it has also become less visible to the general public as it no longer has a prominent presence on television.

By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC