Abductive research as an approach in advancing ODL

Jean A Saludadez
University of the Philippines Open University
Los Baņos, the Philippines

The core of studies on open and distance learning (ODL) is 'the understanding of distance education and the explanation of its processes and results' (Holmberg 1986, p. 28). However, studies in ODL have been criticized for severely lacking theoretical pursuits. In an earlier review of ODL research, Perraton (2000) observed that studies on DE were 'atheoretical (p. 4) and 'predominantly descriptive (p. 5), while a more recent review of DE studies by Zawacki-Richter, Bäcker and Vogt (2009) did not even consider theoretical frameworks as an area to be reviewed. The disinterest in explanation and theory construction is not difficult to understand, given the nature of what Kuhn (1970) calls 'normal science' (p. 23), where research activities tend to intensify around and within a 'single paradigm' (p. 22) which, in ODL, refers to the systems frame. Theory is taken for granted since the system's approach has been providing a convenient frame through which DE can be investigated. Holmberg (1986) foresaw the advancement of understanding of ODL through 'educational, psychological, sociological, organizational, economic and other approaches' (p. 28) or through abductive research.

This paper presents a summary of studies conducted by the author from 2010 to 2014 that attempt to explain ODL through the agency framework, a theoretical framework drawn from the organizational communication field. In particular, the studies look into the agency of ICTs in accomplishing educational objectives by using the ventriloqual approach where agents participating in the accomplishment of organizational action are seen/heard as they participate in interaction. Data for such studies were taken from archived recordings of several open universities in Asia. Understanding such agencies deepens our insights into what can sustain, promote and advance ODL.