Learning activities constitute a very important component of distance education materials. They
are associated with active learning and learning by doing, which are widely accepted as effective
learning approaches. Learning by doing is particularly significant in distance education because
distance learners have to teach themselves or learn on their own through doing and reflecting.
This article reports and reflects on research which focused on the distance education materials
designed by the University of Rwanda’s College of Education to provide professional development
opportunities for high school teachers of English in Rwanda. Findings from a textual analysis of
the materials and from interviews with a sample of teachers who had used these materials indicate
that most of the activities were designed solely for ‘assessment of learning’ purposes and
encourage a surface approach to learning. It is argued that activities which encourage a surface
approach to learning limit learners’ engagement with, and understanding of, the content in the
materials and improvement in quality teaching, a key goal of teacher professional development.