Distance and e-learning, social justice, and development: The relevance of capability approaches to the mission of open universities


  • Alan Tait The Open University




distance education, open learning, distance universities, higher education, online learning, e-learning, development, development theory, capability approach, Amartya Sen,


This article reviews the discourse of mission in large distance teaching and open universities, in order to analyse the theories of development and social justice that are claimed or may be inherent in them. It is suggested that in a number of cases the claims are unsupported or naive. The article goes on to set out the nature of Amartya Sen’s capability approach for development, and to identify its potential for reviewing distance and e-learning more widely as a contributor to development and social justice.

Author Biography

Alan Tait, The Open University


Alan Tait is Professor of Distance Education and Development at the Open University UK, and has a long record of practice, publication and the support of professional development in distance and e-learning.  He was Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at the Open University UK 2007-2012, and was formerly Dean of the Faculty of Education and Language Studies.  He was Editor in Chief of the European Journal of Distance and E Learning (EURODL) 2005-2013, was from 1989-1998 Editor of Open Learning, was President of the European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN) from 2007-2010, and Co-Director of the Cambridge International Conference on Open and Distance Learning.  Alan is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Learning for Development, to be produced from theCommonwealthofLearningfor the first time at the end of 2013. He is Visiting Professor atAarhus University,Denmark, a senior member of St Edmunds College,UniversityofCambridge, and a Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education at theUniversityofLondon. In 2012 Alan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate byMoscowStateUniversityfor Economics, Statistics and Informatics.



How to Cite

Tait, A. (2013). Distance and e-learning, social justice, and development: The relevance of capability approaches to the mission of open universities. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 14(4). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v14i4.1526



Research Articles