Nichols, M. (2003). Book review: Tutorial Distance Learning: Rebuilding Our Educational System (Authors: A. Bork and S. Gunnarsdottir). Educational Technology & Society, 6(3), 79-79 (ISSN 1436-4522)

Tutorial Distance Learning: Rebuilding Our Educational System

(Book review)

Reviewer: Mark Nichols
eLearning Consultant
Private Bag 11022
Palmerston North, New Zealand

Book details:
Tutorial Distance Learning: Rebuilding Our Educational System
Alfred Bork and Sigrun Gunnarsdottir
Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers
ISBN 0-306-46644-9, 191 pages including index and bibliography


In their book Tutorial Distance Learning Alfred Bork and SigrunGunnarsdottir confront one of the most vital questions facing education today: Given that we face increasing demand for education and have access to ever-more capable technology, how should we design courses? The authors suggest a bold way forward.

Individualisation, they proclaim, is what is needed in education however it is too expensive to provide in the classic Oxford one instructor to one student model or the Socratic method used in small groups. Their solution: develop high-budget multimedia applications that are designed to be responsive to the individual, thereby providing customisation to students at the lowest possible variable cost. Individualisation is certainly not possible in the ‘information-transfer’ paradigm of education so common today; rather, they argue, the solution is ‘tutorial learning’.

Drawing from several fictional works coupled with their vision of what is possible; Bork and Gunnarsdottir suggest an idealistic technology-based education system which has learners interacting with responsive computer programmes. The computer becomes the adaptive tutor, working through ‘conversational interaction’. Assessment is based on mastery so that the student has a firm foundation for further study.

Though the idea is courageous and certainly possible, I found parts of the book difficult to wade through and there are many unfortunate grammatical errors. Moreover there is a mixture of what is already well-known to those in the field coupled every now and again with a quick reference to specialist theories that a newcomer to the field might have difficulty with. Many sections are also fairly fragmented, though there is a very good logical layout to the overall argument.

This book will be of interest to educational theorists and project managers involved with multimedia software development. There are some latter chapters (11, “Developing Tutorial Learning Units” and 12, “Costs of Highly Interactive Learning”) that will be of particular benefit.

In conclusion I was left with the impression that while Bork and Gunnarsdottir have a clear vision of what the future of education should be like, there is still significant development, testing and further research necessary before they will be able to generate a critical mass of evidence and a broad appeal to their ideas. They have laid a bold theory; modern examples and evaluation are now needed to illustrate its practicality.


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