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Quality in Distance Education

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Ronaldo Mota, Chancellor Estacio Group

Last year, I was appointed by the Ministry of Education (MEC), via the Secretariat of Higher Education (SESu), to a Working Group (GT) whose responsibility was to update the Quality Reference Guidelines for Distance Higher Education (SESu Ordinance No. 78, of 09/19/2018). At the end of 120 days, the GT presented its results, which were just delivered to the new managers of the Ministry of Education -MEC.

Distance Education (EAD) is usually characterized as the modality by which educational procedures are mediated by technologies, in contexts in which learners and educators are separated, spatially or temporally. We are moving towards a society where information is fully accessible, instantly and basically free, so any definition quickly becomes outdated or, at the very least, incomplete, requiring permanent revisions and updates.

In the final document of the GT, the highlight is the enormous potential of the EAD modality, being considered a strategic tool in broadening access and permanence, especially in higher education. In the last decades, the demand for educational opportunities at this level has grown exponentially, much of this growth being made possible thanks to the use of digital technologies and associated innovative methodologies.

The EAD modality in Brazil was ensured by the Law on Guidelines and Bases of Education/LDB (Law 9.394, of December 20, 1996), which established in its Article 80, the possibility of its organic use at all levels and modalities of teaching. Decree 2,561 of 1998, which established parameters of quality assurance policies in the EaD, and Decree 5.622, of 2005, which regulated article 80 of the LDB, served as guidelines for the publication of quality benchmarks in 2007.

In 2017, the EAD legislation reorganized the opening of programs, made the offer more flexible and made it possible to increase access. Decree No. 9,057, dated May 25, 2017, and MEC Ordinance No. 11, of June 20 of the same year, gave a new dimension to the modality. This Ordinance allowed the institutions to create EAD programs according to their administrative organization and based on the results obtained in the Institutional Concept.

Regarding the most recent innovations, including the authorization for the use of up to 40% in EaD of the total didactic load in most of the presential courses, MEC’s Ordinance No. 1,428, of December 29, 2018 aims to advance the consolidation of a hybrid model that integrates the good practices of the classroom with the virtual, stimulating new pedagogical practices, based on the real possibility of a personalized education of quality. Via customized educational tracks, we can enable everyone to learn, that everyone learns all the time, and that each one learns in a unique way.

One of these innovations of a strictly pedagogical nature is the adoption of educational strategies by which the emphasis is on prioritizing learning to learn, approaches that stimulate the emancipation of the learner and independent learning. One of the central aspects of this approach is to give priority to meta-cognitive characteristics, transcending simple cognition, greatly contemplating raising the learner’s level of awareness about how and under what conditions he learns. Meta-cognitive skills imply in the student’s reflexion and the need to learn to work in a team, including the practice of understanding the other, promoting collaborative and independent learning.

We are moving towards formulating a flexible and hybrid education that will combine elements of the two modalities of teaching, both in person and at a distance. The final product will be able to attend, in a personalized way, the multiple demands that respect the particularities and peculiarities of each student, in their specific educational context, establishing maximum compatibility with a permanent education scenario throughout life.