Distance Learning Challenges in Higher Education:
Supporting Expanded Programs and Access


The search for new knowledge and skills is a hallmark of forward-looking societies. In this context, higher education plays a central role, with systems and structures specifically oriented toward this goal.

Distance education has harnessed those systems and structures to become a rapidly growing option (and opportunity) for student populations that lack proximity to an institution of higher education or whose professional activities and schedules cannot accommodate a traditional program of learning. For this reason, universities all over the world have begun to focus on the affordances of distance learning methodologies.

More recently, the pandemic lockdown imposed an emergency reduction in face-to-face classes and mandated the widespread use of communications technologies for teaching. Those tools have facilitated interaction between teachers and students, among groups of students, and between students and course resources to continue their instruction.

The intense and recent use of these technologies merely simulated the mechanisms of distance learning methodologies with traditional practices adapted for this pandemic situation. The differences, however, are significant. Distance learning incorporates pedagogical models that typically include a combination of asynchronous learning strategies complemented by clearly defined synchronous, group-based activities. Such programs are designed specifically for a target population of students possessing well-developed autonomous work skills, as well as the motivation to persist. The courses include formative and summative assessment criteria suitable for monitoring student progress, providing opportunities for constructive feedback, and identifying areas of strength or weakness in the course itself. Evaluation of distance education programs relies on parameters unique to that environment, while also recognizing the difficulties of some instructional constraints, such as those imposed by laboratory-based learning, for example. Experimental learning requires extensive resources for distance education that can be addressed only partially, in most cases, with remote and/or virtual laboratories.

Distance education is becoming a dynamic instructional alternative in Portugal. Therefore, it is important that we highlight the specific values of distance learning, associating them with high-quality objectives, models, methods, and procedures, to ensure the coherence of our program initiatives for distance delivery.

This Conference is intended to address the attributes of current distance education practices in Portugal and the potential for their evolution. Internationally recognized experts in this teaching approach will provide insight on and guide discussion about redefining the conceptual and organizational framework of distance education in the Portuguese panorama.

João Guerreiro
Chairman of the Management Board of A3ES


Further information: challenges-ead@a3es.pt


David Boud

Professor Boud has been involved in research and teaching development in adult, higher and professional education for over 40 years and has contributed extensively to the literature. He is one of the highest cited researchers in the world in the field of higher education with a current h-index of...

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Liz Marr

Dr Liz Marr is Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Students) at The Open University. Her responsibilities include the student experience, student voice, student engagement and student satisfaction with a major focus on student success.  She also has oversight of student employability, the Access,...

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Carla Padrel de Oliveira
Universidade Aberta

Carla Oliveira is currently the rector of the Universidade Aberta de Portugal, where she has been for more than two decades, during which she carried out other management roles. Carla holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College London, UK, and her main areas of research interest has...

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Fernando Ramos
Universidade de Aveiro

Full Professor of Communication Sciences and Technologies at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, Professor Ramos has been researching the field of Distance Media and Online Education for more than twenty years. He has had important leading roles such as Chairman of the Board of UNAVE, the...

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Ricardo Mairal Usón

Ricardo Mairal Usón is Full Professor of Linguistics at UNED since 2002. His main areas of research interest are lexical knowledge representation, neurolinguistics and computational linguistics and has been the President of the Spanish Association for Applied Linguistics between 2011-2017....

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Susan M. Zvacek

Susan M. Zvacek is an independent consultant, speaker, and teacher, focused on cultivating learning-centred teaching in higher education. Her disciplinary interests include online learning, STEM education, and instructional design. She has had two Fulbright appointments and has 25+ years of...

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Invited Speakers
09.30 Open Ceremony
09.45 E-moderation and mechanisms for monitoring students´ learning Liz Marr (Open University, UK)
10.30 Assessment and feedback in distance education David Boud (Deakin University, Australia)
11.15 Coffee break
11.30 Pedagogical models: learning and teaching strategies Carla Oliveira (Universidade Aberta, Portugal)
12.15 Curricular design and student diversity Ricardo Mairal (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities e Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain)
13.00 Lunch break
14.30 Criteria for Evaluating Distance Education Program Quality Susan Zvacek (Consultant, College Teaching Coach.com, USA)
15.15 The A3ES experience: First cycle of assessments of distance education programmes in Portugal Fernando Ramos (Distance Education Advisory Committee by A3ES and Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal)
15.45 Coffee break
16.00 Round table with representatives of CRUP, CCSIP and APESP
17.00 Closing session

* Lisbon – Portugal Time

Further information: challenges-ead@a3es.pt