Otto Peters, PhD

Otto Peters, PhD

Hall of Fame Class of 2008

Few individuals have had the degree of global impact in adult and continuing education as has Otto Peters, PhD Entering the field in the 1960s, when continuing education was beginning to be affected by telecommunications technology, Peters provided both administrative and scholarly leadership during a time when distance education transformed from a “correspondence study” model to a media-based national strategy for workforce education in both developed and developing countries. As a pioneering administrative leader, scholar, and professional leader, he shaped the direction of university-based distance education in Europe and the world during a career that spans four decades. His contribution to the field has been recognized by organizations around the world.

His ongoing research, spanning four important decades, helped to unite a new understanding of distance education to address workforce and human development needs globally. In the sixties, Peters wrote three books on distance education; two described distance education practices in 11 countries, one presented a new theory of distance education—the industrial model—that had a significant impact on open and distance education in the following decades, making both scholars and politicians aware of distance education’s particular and significant role in continuing and adult education. In the seventies he edited two volumes dealing with new media in higher education, emphasizing the new role of universities in continuing and adult education. In the 2000s, he published research papers in handbooks of distance education and adult education that dealt with the 50 open universities in the world and the contribution of distance education to lifelong learning. His international contribution to the field is further reflected in honorary doctorates that he has received for his work from the Open University (United Kingdom), Deakin University (Australia), New York University (United States), and the Open University of Hong Kong.

Peters is perhaps best known for his theory that “distance education is the most industrialized form of education.” His theory was first published in 1972 in Germany and soon translated. It had a profound and lasting impact on scholars and practitioners alike and has been translated into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese. 

As a professional leader, Peters served for eight years as vice president of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), the only global institutional membership organization in the field.  In 1999, he received the ICDE Prize of Excellence to recognize the impact of his contributions.  For 20 years he was president of the Association of Adult Educators (Verein Grundlagen der Weiterbildung), which publishes a periodical and a loose leaf book (five volumes so far) on continuing education. He received the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany for his international activities.

As rector of an open university he spread the knowledge about the necessity of continuing education in many national and international conferences of university rectors and vice-chancellors.  His work was informed by his research on international educational structures and, ultimately, did much to inform the development of open and distance education in other countries worldwide. He has devoted his entire scholarly career to the development of a significant branch of adult and continuing education, concentrating his research on significant problems of learning at a distance. Peters took an active part in national and international discussions of this particular form of adult and continuing education. He wrote eight books and numerous research papers that have been widely translated and used.