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International Journal of Open and Distance Learning

The Journal of the Distance Education Association of Southern Africa (DEASA) and Southern African
Development Community-Centre for Distance Education (SADC-CDE)

International Journal of Open and Distance Learning Volume 3 March 2010

Dr T. J. Nhundu
Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL)

Editorial Board
Dr. D. H. Mohapi, University of Lesotho
Dr. J. B. Mutangira, University of Swaziland
Mr. V. Muyatwa, Directorate of Open and Distance Education, Zambia
Mr. A. Franque, Insituto Nacional de Educacao a Distancia (INED) Mozambique
Dr. G. Gatsha, Southern African Development Community-Centre for Distance Education (SADC-

Editorial Advisory Board

Prof. David L. Mosoma, University of South Africa
Dr .P. Kurasha, Zimbabwe Open University
Dr. Daniel R. Tau, Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL)
Mr. V. Muyatwa, Directorate of Open and Distance Education, Zambia
Dr. D. Möwes, Polytechnic of Namibia Centre for Open Learning
Ms L. Kolosoa, Lesotho College of Education
Mr. G. Mazibuko, Emlalatini Development Centre, Swaziland
Mr. T. Thuthoetsile, Southern African Development Community Open and Distance Learning Project

Reviewers of articles in the current volume

Dr. Vitalicy Chifwepa, University of Zambia
Dr. C.W.S Sukati, University of Swaziland
Dr. Getrude Nyakutse, University of Swaziland
Dr. Regina Masalela, University of Botswana
Dr. Johan Hendrikz, University of Pretoria
Dr. Stanslaus T. Modesto, Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning.
Prof. David Chakuchichi, Zimbabwe Open University

Editorial Correspondence
All articles for the journal should be addressed to Godson Gatsha, SADC-CDE, Botswana College of
Distance and Open Learning, P. Bag BO 187, Gaborone, Botswana. Tel: 00267 3180094 Fax: 00267
3191089 cell: 00267 72163697 E-mail;

Subscription information
The DEASA/SADC-CDE International Journal of Open and Distance Learning is published annually.
Subscribers will be sent copies by air mail. The annual subscriptions are as follows:
Southern Africa Pula 120/US$ 25
The rest of the World US$ 35

© DEASA/SADC-CDE. It is a condition of publication in this journal that authors vest copyright in the
DEASA/SADC-CDE. However, authors are free to use their material elsewhere after the publication
without seeking permission provided they acknowledge the copy-right holder as the first publisher.
The authors of journal articles are responsible for copyright clearance for any part of the contents of
their articles. The opinion expressed in the journal articles are those of the authors and do not reflect
the objects or opinion of DEASA/SADC-CDE.
Mega-Schools and Technology: Lifelong Learning Systems for the 21st Century
J. S. Daniel and F. Ferreira.........................................................................................4
New Media and Technology, Lifelong Learning and Distance Education: Charting Symbiosis
towards Educational Access and Equity
S. Panda ..................................................................................................................12
Face-to-face Tutoring in Open and Distance Learning - The Nigerian Situation
A. Ogunsola..............................................................................................................20
Trends in Distance Education Research in Southern Africa
S. Tichapondwa Modesto........................................................................................ 30
Challenges faced by Distance Education Learners: A case study of Kyambogo University,
R. Chireshe, D. Okot & A. Otto.................................................................................46
Engaging Action Research in Post-Literacy (PL) Materials’ Development: The Case of the
National University of Lesotho-Institute of Extra-Mural Studies
M. Mofana-Semeko..................................................................................................55
A Survey of Students’ Perception on Distance Learning Support - Implications for Qualitative
Planning of Distance Education in Nigeria
A. Olatoun Abiodun...................................................................................................70
A Survey of Students’ Perception on Distance Learning Support - Implications for
Qualitative Planning of Distance Education in Nigeria
The inaugural issue of the DEASA-SADC CDE International Journal of Open and Distance
Learning (IJODL) came out hardly three years ago, in September 2007, under sponsorship
of the Southern Africa Development Community Centre for Distance Education (SADC
CDE). This was a momentous occasion for ten countries that collaboratively came under the
leadership of the Distance Education Association of Southern Africa (DEASA) to launch a
regional mouthpiece for ODL research in Southern Africa.
While the formation of IJODL was initially motivated by a desire to provide DEASA members
with a platform for disseminating and sharing information on a plethora of distance education
developments sweeping across the region, it soon became evident from the interest shown
by researchers from outside the region that IJODL would transform into an international
journal faster than the Editorial Board had been planned. There is no doubt that the growing
international interest in IJODL is attributable to the editorial policy that seeks to establish a
scholarly publication of repute, which has a strong preference for original research-based
articles of high quality. The current editorial policy requires the IJODL to undertake
continuous self-evaluation to ensure that it publishes papers of the highest quality.
In the previous issue improvements in the quality of papers were acknowledged and
associated with a thorough reviewer selection procedure and enhanced rigour in the blind
review process used by the IJODL. However, what is most noteworthy in the current issue is
the diversity of contributors. This issue of the IJODL contains contributions from Southern
Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Asia and North America. This is the first time, but certainly
not the last, where the IJODL has contributors from across three continents. While the
IJODL will continue to encourage international contributors to bring balance and provide
international perspectives, the journal would remain faithful to its founding principles and
continue to serve as the foremost platform for ODL researchers in Southern Africa. The
IJODL is also considering the possibility of thematic publications under Special Issues, which
provide opportunities for thorough and sustained treatment of selected topics.
The current issue of the IJODL contains seven research articles that cover a wide range of
open and distance learning subjects, including learner support, materials development and
use of technology in distance learning. Unlike previous issues, contributions in the current
issue have utilised a richer variety of research methodologies, including case studies,
surveys and meta-analyses.
T.J. Nhundu PhD
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

Mega-Schools and Technology: Lifelong Learning Systems for the 21st

J. S. Daniel and F. Ferreira
Commonwealth of Learning
Excellent progress has been made in this decade towards the goal of Universal
Primary Education. One result is that a tidal wave of pupils now seeks secondary
education, which many countries do not have the resources to provide by
expanding their networks of conventional secondary schools. Another challenge
is that many countries have made little progress towards the Dakar Education for
All goal of ‘ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are
met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes’.
Open schooling can provide part of the answer to both of these challenges. More
importantly, it could also be the core that integrates and links together all the
different elements needed to create innovative lifelong learning systems for the
21st century. With resources scarce during the period of recovery from the
economic crisis, these open schools must operate at scale as mega-schools.
School systems must use information and communications technologies to
reduce costs instead of increasing them as they have done in the past.
Introduction: Striving for Education for All
The success of the drive for Universal Primary Education is generating a huge surge of
children and young adults (estimates range from 200 to 400 million) who seek to continue
their education and training to the next stage. There is no prospect of accommodating such
numbers through the conventional provision of secondary schooling, skills training and adult
education. Governments must encourage alternative approaches and providers that can
deliver quality learning at scale with low costs. As well as extending conventional public
school systems, governments should encourage the expansion of private schooling for the
poor, draw lessons from projects involving ICT, and give special priority to expanding open
Developing and expanding open schooling are particularly promising alternatives that can
also be integrated with other approaches to make them more cost-effective and cost-efficient
(Abrioux & Ferreira, 2009). An integrated approach also holds the promise of providing
education that is better adapted to the needs of the 21st century. It can blur the unhelpful
distinction between formal and non-formal education; build a bridge between knowledge
acquisition and skills development; and has the potential to reduce the inequalities of access
that blight conventional provision in most countries. Very importantly, open schooling is
steadily becoming less expensive compared to the conventional school system.
In many developing countries the expansion of conventional public schooling at the
secondary level faces major challenges of both cost and effectiveness. Research shows that
a country is unlikely ever to achieve universal secondary education if the unit costs at
secondary level are more than twice those at primary level. In most developing countries the
difference is far greater than that. Moreover, in some countries public sector schooling is
losing credibility and, often, pupils – as parents choose alternatives to public schools
plagued by decrepit facilities, uncommitted or absent teachers and a general lack of
The steady expansion of private schooling, even in the poorest areas, is causing a re-
assessment of conventional development wisdom. For two decades development agencies
have assumed that the right to free basic schooling should have priority over the right of
parents to choose their children’s schools. It is hard to sustain this assumption as the
evidence accumulates that some of the poorest parents are choosing private education
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

because they find it better.

Given the widespread assumption that information and communications technologies have
the potential to expand quality education cost-effectively, we examine three major ICT
initiatives in the developing world: One Laptop per Child; the Hole in the Wall; and the
NEPAD eSchools demonstration project. We conclude that while computers do enrich and
enhance learning, they need to be embedded within a wider framework if they are to make a
systemic contribution to achieving EFA.
The essential challenge is to develop learning systems that: a) can be conducted at scale; b)
are inexpensive; c) deliver acceptable quality consistently; and d) can be adapted to diverse
needs. Technology allows processes to be scaled up by combining division of labour with
specialisation and appropriate equipment. In large scale distance learning systems
specialisation and the division of labour are usually identified with three sub-systems:
administration and logistics; course materials development and student support.
Open Schools and Mega-Schools
A short definition of open schooling is ‘the physical separation of the school-level learner
from the teacher, and the use of unconventional teaching methodologies, and information
and communications technologies to bridge the separation and provide the education and
training’ (Phillips, 2006). This definition focuses on one important feature of open schooling:
its use of distance learning that allows educational systems to operate at scale. We use the
term ‘mega-school’ to designate open schools that have exploited this possibility.
When Daniel (1996) coined the term ‘mega-university’ for large distance-teaching
universities, he set the threshold at 100,000 active students. This figure was significantly
higher than the enrolments on any single conventional university campus and distinguished
such institutions from the rest of higher education. Secondary schools are usually much
smaller than universities, so we define a mega-school as an open school with more than
10,000 active pupils. In the school sector this is an indication of useful scale, even though
some open schools in high population countries have much larger enrolments, exceeding a
million in several cases. However, using the figure of 10,000 rightly identifies an institution
such as Namibia’s College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) as a mega-school. The total
population of Namibia is only 2 million, yet NAMCOL’s 28,000 students account for 40% of
the country’s secondary enrolment.
Setting the threshold for a mega-school at 10,000 students distinguishes usefully between
open schools that operate with lower unit costs than the conventional system and those,
usually in the richer jurisdictions, that do not achieve – or indeed aim for – a significant cost
advantage, such as the Open Access College of South Australia with 1,500 students.
We focus here on mega-schools and on those open schools that aim to reach a significant
proportion of the secondary school population, even if they do not achieve large numbers in
absolute terms because they serve small countries.
Open Schools: Ends and Means
Most open schools deploy distance learning methods in similar ways. They carry out the
three functions of administration and logistics, course materials development, and student
support in much the same manner, even where they use different technologies.
Administration and logistics take advantage of electronic data systems, even in less ICT-rich
countries, although they may differ in the extent to which they use regional offices and study
centres, rather than their headquarters, in managing the system. All use systematic
instructional design and some elements of course teams in developing course materials.
Student support is provided in local study centres, usually located within the facilities of other
institutions and sometimes operated by them (e.g. the accredited institutions of India’s NIOS)
(Abrioux & Ferreira, 2009).
Differences between open schools become apparent, however, when we examine the ends
that they pursue through these means. Open schools can achieve various purposes. A
jurisdiction seeking to establish an open school must decide on the priorities that it wishes to
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

pursue through it.

Rumble & Koul (2007) point to three significant differences between open schools and
conventional systems: mode, markets and curriculum. Mode refers to the use of distance
learning. Markets indicate the clientele that open schools can serve. Conventional schools
are not usually open to adults aged more than 20 years whereas open schools can serve
people from a wide age range. Curricula may or may not differ greatly between open and
conventional schools. Botswana’s College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL)
offers exactly the same curriculum as the conventional schools and prepares its pupils for
the same national exams. By contrast India’s NIOS, which is its own examining body, has
worked hard to develop a set of curricula suited to its particular market, with a special
emphasis on vocational education.
Just as the adjective ‘open’ may designate different types of openness when used in the
term ‘open university’, so it is with open schools. The degree and type of openness is a
decision for those designing a particular open school. Admission may be decided on exactly
the same criteria as the conventional schools or it may be more liberal. The curriculum may
be exactly the same as in the conventional system – as it must be if both open and
conventional schools prepare pupils for the same examinations – or more specifically
adapted to the clientele.
However, given considerable dissatisfaction with conventional secondary school curricula in
many countries, open schools present the opportunity to do something different. Too often
the regular curriculum is geared to preparing a small proportion of pupils for access to
tertiary education, rather than giving the majority a basis for lives and livelihoods in the 21 st
century. Because open schools usually reach out to those who do not have ready access to
a conventional school they may serve them better by offering something different from the
conventional curriculum.
Which model: complementary, alternative or integrative?
We can distinguish between three models of open schooling: complementary, alternative
and integrative.
Complementary open schools
Complementary open schools offer the same curriculum as the conventional schools to
children who never had a chance to attend a regular school or had to drop out because their
grades were too poor. CNED (France), BOCODOL (Botswana), NAMCOL (Namibia), SLTP
Terbuka (Indonesia) and Telesecundaria (Mexico) are examples of complementary open
schools. Each reaches a significant proportion of the national secondary-age population and
enables its pupils to study for the same certification as those in the conventional schools.
Because they teach the national curriculum at scale, these open schools are able to invest in
the production of better learning materials, whether as print, audio-visual media or software,
than the conventional schools could expect to develop. It is desirable to share these
materials across the whole education system because lack of good learning materials often
undermines the quality of conventional schooling.
What are the challenges facing complementary open schools? How can they improve their
performance and contribute more fully to their national education systems? The answer is a
combination of closer integration with the wider educational system accompanied by greater
autonomy in governance and management.
Closer integration – or at least better communication with ministries of education and/or
national examination authorities – is particularly desirable in the area of curriculum. By
definition, complementary open schools teach to the national curriculum. But since good
distance learning courses require significant lead times and investment to develop and
produce, governments should involve their open schools in all curriculum revision processes
from the earliest stages. CNED, BOCODOL and NAMCOL have all had to scramble to react
to curriculum changes – and sometimes to scrap quantities of learning material rendered
obsolete by them.
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

Governments should regard open schools as helpful allies in national curriculum

development in the era of ICTs. The Commonwealth of Learning is facilitating a programme
whereby open schools from five countries are working together to create secondary
curricular materials in the form of open educational resources (see below). These can readily
be versioned for each country and at the level of individual schools.
All the complementary open schools are engaged in the development of vocational
education as a growth area. CNED already operates to a national curriculum, the lycée
professionel, but most other open schools are opening up the area of work-related studies
as they go. Here again better coordination with ministries of education seems desirable so
that relevant vocational curricula can be developed for the benefit of the countries as whole.
Along with closer coordination, however, complementary open schools could serve their
nations more effectively if their boards were given greater autonomy, especially in financial
management and the setting of fees. Currently these supposedly independent bodies are so
hemmed in by government controls on fees that strategic planning is practically impossible.
In a time of rapid change the principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are made at the
lowest appropriate level, is also a factor of efficiency and innovation that could benefit
complementary open schools.
Complementary open schools must do everything possible to improve the performance of
their pupils. Since they teach to the same examinations as the conventional schools, the
performance of the two systems can be compared directly. Open schools must continue to
gain credibility by showing good results even though – or especially because – their pupils
have a background of educational disadvantage.
Alternative open schools
Alternative open schools may cater to some of the same children as complementary open
schools but they also aim to engage older youths and adults by offering programmes that
are more vocationally oriented and have a greater focus on life skills. India’s National
Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), the Papua New Guinea Open College and, to some
extent, Indonesia’s SLTP Terbuka can be considered as alternative open schools although
they have very different national contexts, mandates and governance structures.
Alternative systems that break new curricular ground are steadily becoming more attractive
in comparison to complementary systems that simply extend the conventional programme at
a distance. Clearly, however, adapting the school curriculum and the school year to meet the
needs of youth who could not access the conventional school system – and who may be
employed – poses a dilemma. How far should the system aim to produce the same results
as the conventional secondary schools? Few parents and students wish to contemplate
studies that do not hold the promise of certification.
However, as Figueredo & Anzalone (2003) noted: ‘In most countries, the formal system,
even when its curriculum is acknowledged as lacking relevance to the real world, casts a
long shadow on aspirations and expectations. Curriculum developers for alternative models
who start down the road to producing a more relevant curriculum are often roped back into
traditional subject-matter content as students and parents become more vocal about passing
Today this sounds too pessimistic. Both India’s NIOS and the PNG Open College have
shown that programmes that focus on life skills and work-oriented content are attractive to
students and their parents. In these two cases, of course, the institutions provide their own
certification, which is accepted at par with certification from the conventional system by
employers and tertiary institutions.
Governments may wish to establish or facilitate the creation of an open school that offers an
alternative curriculum geared to ‘ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and
adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes’
(Dakar Goal 3). If they do, they must arrange for the new entity to have appropriate powers
of certification.
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

The alternative open schools can claim considerable success. NIOS is not only drawing
many school-age youth into its alternative route (74% of its secondary students are aged 15
to 20) but also has achieved parity of enrolment between male and female students in its
vocational courses. To the extent that these young women see a greater sense and purpose
in education that promises economic independence and a better life, NIOS is acting as an
important agent of social change.
Integrative open schools
Integrative open schools are placed at the heart of the whole school system in order to
improve and strengthen the quality and reach of that system, to be a source of innovation,
and to act as a catalyst for reform.
For most educational authorities the pressing issue is to make the conventional system more
effective and improve its quality. How can open schooling help? UNESCO conducted a
thorough review of what makes for effectiveness and quality in schooling (UNESCO, 2004).
From this we can construct a list of desirable features that could be obtained more readily by
having an open school as a resource for the whole school system:
• good learning materials
• focus on the curriculum
• regular, reliable, and timely assessment of learning
• pedagogical materials for teachers
• an inclusive learning environment with special attention to AIDS orphans, children
with disabilities, those living in conflict zones, those obliged to work and those
disadvantaged by gender, race and ethnicity, culture and language, religion, social
status and migration
• relevant content
• teaching of reading and writing
• structured teaching: direct instruction, guided practice and independent learning
• appropriate language of instruction
• larger classes if accompanied by better inputs (assistants, materials, etc.).
Having a source of good learning and assessment materials is an important foundation of
effectiveness and quality. Open schools, as well as addressing the issues of inclusiveness at
the national level, can be a prime source of good learning materials focused on the
curriculum. Learning materials can be produced and shared in a very modern way as open
educational resources and, more generally open schools can be a leaven for the entire
school system.
The collaborative creation of learning materials
Open schools have to produce learning materials, usually in a variety of formats. These
materials have always been useful to the conventional schools, which often have neither the
money to buy materials nor the critical mass of teacher time and expertise to develop
materials of quality themselves. Two developments have made the learning materials
produced by open schools potentially even more useful to the wider school system.
First, most learning materials are now developed in digital formats, even though they may
eventually reach students in the form of printed materials. Holding materials electronically
has three advantages: they are easy to move around; they can readily be adapted and
revised; and they can be converted to eLearning formats when online learning becomes a
Second, there is now a growing movement, inspired by the ideal that knowledge is the
common wealth of humankind, to create a global intellectual commons in which learning
materials are shared. This movement involves many thousands of teachers, at all levels,
creating open educational resources (OERs), which are learning materials in digital format
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

that are freely available for adaptation and use.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which has supported many OER projects in
higher education, is now supporting similar work in open schools through a programme that
combines the professional development of teachers with the development of OERs. Twenty
sets of self-instructional learning materials on the secondary curriculum will be produced in
six developing countries: India, Namibia, Trinidad & Tobago, Lesotho, Seychelles and
Botswana (a set of material refers to the complete syllabus for one subject at a Grade 10 or
Grade 12 level in each of the six countries with the possibility of adapting it to the curriculum
of any other country).
This material will be suitable for use in both open and conventional schools and will permit
open schools to offer current and new subjects through print and online teaching. The
programme will create a pool of one hundred trained and experienced master teachers, who
can train other teachers in their countries and support online materials development once
the formal project is complete. These master teachers will also have been trained in the use
of the Commonwealth of Learning’s instructional design template and will have the skills to
develop learning materials collaboratively online, thus creating a new network of expertise in
developing countries.
Computers for children: can open schools help?
Open schools could also act as organising elements for the expansion of ICTs in secondary
schools generally. Elsewhere (Daniel, 2009) we examined three projects that put computers
in the hands of children. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the NEPAD eSchools
demonstration project placed computers in schools, whereas the Hole in the Wall (HITW)
experiment put them in playgrounds and public spaces.
Although the two projects involving schools gave disappointing results, especially to those
who expected a revolution in teachers’ pedagogy and students’ performance, there
continues to be a strong drive in most countries to get more computers into the schools.
India, for example, is now planning to make ICTs a major plank of their programme for
universal secondary education, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan.
The mounting evidence that the benefits of computers in the classroom are elusive should
not lead to abandonment of the idea but ought to encourage educational authorities to plan
their introduction carefully. Just one example of the pitfalls is a list of ten problems with
teaching science online that includes slower reading speeds, lower comprehension (30%
lower than paper), erroneous information on websites, broken links (linkrot), and the costs of
infrastructure renewal and software updates (Schrock, 2009).
Open schools seem well placed to help whole school systems implement computing.
Collaborative projects in OER curriculum development can help to create locally adapted
eLearning materials of quality that are always in short supply. Moreover, since open schools
have to be technologically savvy to take advantage of new developments for their own
students they are a natural source of expertise for wider use.
Student assessment is an area of special relevance in this context. Regular, timely and
reliable assessment is an important tool in securing students’ attention to content and the
curriculum. It figured prominently in UNESCO’s summary of determinants of quality and
effectiveness cited earlier. This list that is consistent with the results of Bernard and his
colleagues (Bernard et al., 2009; Abrami et al., 2008) who showed that interaction with
content – rather than with tutors or fellow students – is the most important way of promoting
learning. Although reliable and regular assessment encourages students to focus on
content, assessment is the element of their role that many teachers like least. Moreover,
designing effective instruments for student assessment is a challenging task, which calls on
skills that many teachers do not have.
Because of their scale and flexible entry requirements open schools have to operate with
large banks of assessment instruments (quizzes, examinations, etc.) for both formative and
summative assessment. These are held as databases on computers so that they can be
made available on demand. By strengthening this function of open schools governments
J. S. Daniel & F. Ferreira

could create an extremely valuable resource for their entire school systems.
We have shown that open schooling can add value to national school systems in many
ways. Some open schools are large, particularly those in developing countries, and we have
used the term mega-school to designate those with more than 10,000 students that
constitute a significant element of secondary provision.
Open schools can be embedded in national education systems in essentially three ways.
Complementary open schools offer the same curriculum as regular schools in order to
prepare pupils, who may have difficulty accessing those schools, to prepare for the same
examinations. Alternative open schools usually serve a somewhat older clientele and design
their own curricula and certification with more emphasis on vocational education and life
skills. An integrative open school not only has its own student body but also strengthens the
entire school system. It can do this by acting as a source of quality learning and assessment
materials and a mechanism for introducing innovations, such as computing.
Abrami, P.C., Bernard, R.M., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Surkes, M., Tamim, R., & Zhang, D.
A. (2008). Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions:
A stage one meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 78(4): 1102-1134.
Abrioux, D. & Ferreira, F. (Eds.) (2009) Open Schooling, Vancouver: Commonwealth of
Bernard, R.M., Abrami, P.C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C.A., Tamim, R., Surkes, M.A., &
Bethel, E.C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in
distance education. Manuscript in press, Review of Educational Research.
Daniel, J.S. (1996). Mega-universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for
Higher Education, London: Kogan Page
Daniel, J S. (2009). Mega-Schools, Teachers and Technology: Achieving Education for All,
Routledge, to be published
Figuerdo, V. & Anzalone, S. (2003). Alternative Models for Secondary Education in
Developing Countries: Rationale and Realities, American Institutes for Research
Phillips, S. (2006). Exploring the Potential of Open Schooling, Connections Vancouver,
Commonwealth of Learning, 11(1): 8-10
Rumble, G. & Koul, B. N. (2007). Open Schooling for Secondary and Higher Secondary
Education: Costs and Effectiveness in India and Namibia, Vancouver,
Commonwealth of Learning. Available at:
openSchl.aspx [Accessed: 5 May 2009]
Schrock, J. R. (2009). US: Problems Teaching Science Online, University World News,
June, Issue 0079 Available at:
story=20090604191432435 [Accessed 9 June 2009]
UNESCO. (2004). Education for All: The Quality Imperative. EFA Global Monitoring Report,
UNESCO Publishing: Paris
S. Panda

New Media and Technology, Lifelong Learning and Distance Education:

Charting Symbiosis towards Educational Access and Equity1.
S. Panda
Staff Training & Research Institute of Distance Education
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)

This paper draws on the current tremendous developments in new media
and technology, especially the web-based social technologies and their
promises towards an egalitarian, just and equitable information society.
The potentialities of the new social technologies, including open software
and open education resources, are examined and the possibilities are
established. The contributions are examined against the theories and
debates concerning information society and digital divide vis-a-vis the
established paradigm of diffusion of technology innovations.
This is followed by a general discussion on the foundations and dynamics
of lifelong learning and distance education - both as emerging and
nascent domains of human development and social action. The genesis
of lifelong learning is located and examined in the context of technology-
enabled distance education, and with passing reference to large mega
open universities such as IGNOU. Some of the myths concerning social
technologies and open social software vis-a-vis lifelong distance learning
and contextualization of constructivist learning are examined with a view
to highlight the potentiality and desirability of new social technologies, the
ethical and social non-neutralization of technology, the need for cohesive
policy on social shaping of technology, and the imperative towards forging
a symbiosis between technology, lifelong distance learning, and access
and equity in the context of adult education.
Developments in the New Media and Technology
During the past century, and especially during the past few decades, there have
been significant developments in media and technology. The new media, especially
social technologies, have emerged towards faster communication, more
communication, engaging communication, open communication, and communication
for an equal and just society. Within education technology developments have come
a long way from traditional audio-visuals and subsequent one-way broadcasting to
the present form of interactive, collaborative and open technologies. In the process,
there has been convergence of three independent technological developments -
broadcasting, telecommunications, and computing - within the web technology like
Web 2.0. In addition, a one-window solution is now provided through convergence of
digital broadcasting, mobile phones and personal computers/laptops. The web
(www), created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillaian (in 1989) has led to
'semantic web'/Web 2.0 and novel approaches to social networking, an extension of
Web 2.0 over Web 1.0 through open software and social technologies (Figure 1,
O'Reilly, 2005).
Web 1.0 Web 2.0

1 This paper was presented at the 18th AMIC (Singapore) Conference on 'Media Democracy and
Governance: Emerging Paradigms in Digital Age', July 13-16, 2009, Le Meridien Hotel, New Delhi.
S. Panda

• Publishing (Britannica Online) • Participation (Wikipedia)

• Personal websites • Blogging
• Content management • Wikis
• Directories (taxonomy) • Tagging (folksonomy)
• Stickiness • Syndication (RSS)
• Downloading • Uploading
• Consumer • Prosumer (consumer + producer)

Figure 1: Comparison of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

The technological developments within the tradition of open source have provided for
immense social networking possibilities (Figure 2) through various technological
services at social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin, and MySpace.
Social Networking Technologies
Distributed, participatory, collaborative, open, Blogs, moblogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds,
student-centred, constructivist, vodcasts, search engines, mobile learning, intelligent
social learning publishing, etc.
Social software, open software, open Communication over Internet Protocol (CIP)
education resource, social networking Text + Voice + Video

Cellphone PDAs Computers

Figure 2: Technologies and social networking
A comprehensive Web 2.0 framework given in Figure 3 (Dawson, 2009) explains the
immense convergence, complexity and possibilities in interaction, collaboration and

Figure 3: Web 2.0 framework (Dawson, 2009)

Social technologies and open source/open software throw open the entire gamut of
technology-mediated interaction and knowledge creation (and interactive knowledge
dissemination and use) for social publishing through YouTube and blogs, social
bookmarking through Bibsonomy and, and social cataloguing through
Folksonomy and Tag Clouds. Also, collaborative content creation through
collaboration, contribution and editing is possible through the collective intelligence
tool of Wiki - an online collective encyclopaedia. With these developments, there has
arisen the need for managing knowledge. Evans (2007) talks about two kinds of
organisational cultures - 'culture of compliance' with significant institutional control
and 'enabling culture' toward individually driven initiatives in an open source and
social technology based environment (Figure 4). There is constant struggle in
organisations between individual choices (left quadrant) and institutional self
regulatory control (right quadrant).
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Figure 4: Social software tools and cultural emphasis (Stuckey and Arkell, 2006. Quoted in Evans, 2007)
In the past decades, in terms of technology adoption, diffusion of innovation (Rogers,
1995) has been the catalytic strategy to successfully disseminate the technological
innovation (of late, especially the Internet) and achieve its all promising benefits in
the socio-economic life of the community. The innovators and early adopters could
gradually convince the laggards and late majority to assimilate the technology
innovation. Therefore, even if technological access is available, it may not lead to
wider use. According to Rogers' (1995) explanation of the nature of innovation,
decision-making process, characteristics of individuals in the community,
consequences for individuals and communication channels for adoption of innovation
are critical for successful diffusion of innovation. This is akin to a social system of
'information society', and, within this framework, the question is still debated: Will
technology innovations like Internet really get diffused for adoption and application in
a community of practice (CoP)? This points to the fundamental issues of the nature
of the present society and the way technologies need to be harnessed for individual
and social benefits.
Some would argue for coming up of an information or learning age (DFEE, 1998),
and a post-industrial information society promising rapid dissemination of information
so essential for productivity and production, and a better life. While Beeson (2003)
argues that submersion in a global information culture should be resisted, Black’s
(2003) vision of the information society is of one that is built on the 'shifting sands of
disquieting social change' (p.20) of the present times; hence, information cannot
simply be reduced to bits of disaggregated data; instead, information should be
treated as a process rather than an item, and as action rather than a thing. Further,
the debates on the contribution of technological developments to socio-economic
changes have been varied and at times contradictory. The argument by Giddens
(1999) of ICT driving globalisation within broader socio-economic changes
notwithstanding, Castells (1998) instead proposes a 'networked society' in which the
technological developments and/or global communication networks drive
contemporary economic changes and social structures. As against the traditional

'industrial capitalism', the contemporary 'informational capitalism' connects all to the
global networks of information. In the newly defined production function, information
technology and the 'cultural capacity to use it' (Ibid. p161) are extremely essential.
The informational society, however, has created a divide between the self-
programmable labour (those who can innovate with it) and the generic labour (those
who can receive it and execute it) - the latter could easily be displaced by an
automated machine. This leads to informational capitalism and social exclusion. Bottom
While it may be essential to engage in ICTs in education and training, it may so
happen that the individual choices so critical in social cohesion and progress become norms
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subservient to the dominant goals of the networked informational capitalism.

Therefore, as against diffusion, individual choice and social shaping of technology
assume considerable importance (Lievrouw, 2002)
In the contemporary developments of a learning society in which everything
contributes to learning and that learning is not confined to the time-space bounded
formal (classroom) learning, lifelong learning assumes considerable importance.
Learning, developing new skills, continuing professional development, and learning
to learn throughout the life are sine qua non to living. What promises, then, do
technologies have in a learning society for lifelong learning and alternative paths of
Lifelong Learning and Distance Education
According to Oblinger (2005: 69), “learning is an active process in which the learner
develops his or her own comprehension by assembling facts, experience, and
practice. Learning depends on participation as well; learning is part cerebral and part
social”. Learning, though an individual activity, is social and occurs in a context. The
context may belong to any domain of learning (like home, workplace, and classroom)
and resource sites like the Web may significantly contribute to learning. However,
learning contexts are embedded in social practices (Edwards, 2005); hence,
communities, networks, and contexts are crucial for learning to occur. Learning takes
place in a community and may be through various networks; however, context –
which is a set of practices (Edwards, 2005) or specific knowledge that the community
develops or shares (Wenger et al, 2002) - is most crucial to lifelong learning. While
learning occurs across domains and sites, it is contextually situated. Cognitions are
distributed across the learning society and therefore situated in context.
Edwards (2006) further extends the discourse of context to include “the dimension of
relationship between individuals and variously defined others, mediated through a
range of social, organisational and technological artefacts”. Learning in the context of
lifelong learning is a change in understanding in practice in social contexts, and so all
social practices are learning contexts. Learning in a lifespan also requires de-
contextualisation and re-situating in case of transfer of learning. Therefore, any form
of learning and technological mediation needs to address this and go beyond the
bounded container called formal schooling/learning/education.
In a constantly changing society and socio-economic activities, there is need to cope
with those changes and to be part of the process itself. These changes which require
people to adapt were identified by Halimi (2005) as including advances in science
and technology, developments in ICTs and emergence of new ways of creating
knowledge. Lifelong learning addresses, beyond formal discipline-based learning, the
changing life contexts and all challenges associated with them. Learning, whether
non-formal, informal, autonomous, collaborative or technology-based, involves
acquisition of new skills, organising innovations, and refreshing perceptions and
world view for peaceful and healthy living. In addition, learning should be humanistic,
universal, self learning (at times in collaborative community of practice).
Distance education, which is over one and half centuries old, but has only been
progressively refined in the past few decades (due to technological progresses) as a
technology-mediated facilitation of learning anywhere, anytime, and at any pace,
supports the notion and process of lifelong learning. Distance education by its very
nature of organisation democratises education and provides for equality of
educational opportunity. The freedom to choose space, time, pace, pathways,
content, and level of discourse while still being in gainful engagement in the world of
work is a kind of freedom unthinkable in the bounded classroom context. This has
liberated many, including those disadvantaged who could not, in one way or the
other, afford a full-time campus-based study. The movements of open and flexible
learning and social technology-based open source, self and group, learning have
further strengthened lifelong learning. Egalitarianism, equality, lifelong, flexible,
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learner-centred, autonomous learning are common to both lifelong as well as

distance education (Peters, 2009), and that distance education 'can even be
considered a forerunner of lifelong learning' (Ibid, p.235).
Distance education has opened up faster in the past few decades, resulting in the
emergence of many alternative institutional arrangements, including open universities
coming into existence. In India, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)
has established itself as a national as well as regional lifelong learning agency
providing knowledge and skills to diversified social groups including women and the
downtrodden, and in areas which are just socially relevant and most of which do not
find provision in conventional higher and further education settings. Open education
institutions have furthered the cause of lifelong learning and thereby contributed to
the changing globalisation and changing economic production processes. One may
argue that though access to education and training provisions has been ensured, one
needs to examine the possibility of equity and individual and community shaping of
learning in the community of practice.
Social Technologies, Social Networks and Lifelong Learning
Web 2.0 and social technologies tremendously contribute to the way people
organise, communicate, collaborate, contribute and make meaning in the community
of practice. Social software, i.e. socially based tools and systems facilitate digital
social networking and involvement and communication. They go beyond traditional
publishing and dissemination of learning resources to creation of communities and
community resources with built-in autonomy towards self-direction and self-
management. Wiki is the best example of collaborative and shared content creation,
use and revision. These social technologies support lifelong learning driven by and
for learners (Panda, 2009). Wikis, blogging, MySpace, Facebook - all contribute to
critical and collaborative content generation in the community of practice. The web
facilitates going beyond the traditional formal classroom context as the container with
boundaries to actor networks (Nespor, 1994), activity systems (Engestrom, et al,
1999), communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991), and distributed learning
(Lea and Nicoll, 2002), among others. Social networks and social networking is
critical to the net-based lifelong learning. Commenting on culture vis-a-vis Web 2.0
social networking environment, a team of researchers observed that “online social
networking is leading to the development of culture in its own right, often blurring the
boundaries between the real and virtual worlds” (Gunawardena et al, 2009:7). In their
study on a theoretical framework for collaborative learning process in a CoP through
Wiki, the authors quote one of the co-researchers’ experience while going through
the process herself that "....the wiki and social bookmarking provided a space where
the exchange of knowledge occurred. That space-enhanced engagement and
learning because it facilitated the creation of a common secondary discourse' (p.15).
Network analysis, even in the digital context, is essential to appreciate social
structure and its influence on human behaviour and human learning. Besides
studying what kinds of constraints cause network structures to affect social structure
and social change, it also studies how the pattern of ties in a network affects the
access of people in a dependency relationship. What is important is to study both the
common possession of attributes and norms by the individuals and also their
involvement in structured social relationships (Wellman, 1983). Therefore, digital
social networking needs to study both the form and content of the networks in the
context of social relationships. This would contribute to better facilitate networked
lifelong learning.
Symbiosis toward Educational Access and Equity
As has already been noted, community, networks, and contexts are important to
(lifelong) learning. One may argue that every learner is a lifelong learner (politically,
socially, economically, culturally and educationally) and that every learner belongs to
a community and is attached to network(s) and, hence, relates to some context(s).
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Each one needs to be provided with constant educational and training throughout the
life span in formal, non-formal and informal ways; open distance education is at the
forefront of the provision towards this access. In the context of technology-enabled
lifelong distance learning, access to technology is crucial. The current technological
wired broadband access in developing countries seems to have become vogue; one
talks about access to wireless/WiFi and to instrumentalities for any time any place
access. While access to technology has been a question in the developing world, the
question that follows is the level of ability to access and use the technology. The
open source social technologies are no exceptions. Legitimate peripheral
participation assumes considerable significance here in respect of the level of
discourse that the learners are able to be engaged with in a community of practice.
While access still remains an issue, the concomitant challenge is equity. If one does
an analysis of patterns in a learning community/community of practice, we may find
wide variations in the level of cognition and discourse among individual members.
From a social constructivist perspective, this needs to be seriously addressed to
facilitate individual construction and social negotiation of meaning in an online
community of practice. For successful and sustainable lifelong distance learning this
continuous facilitation is foundation to quality discourse and quality learning. This
also involves addressing individual identity, power, language and culture, and
enhancement of individual self-efficacy (Gunawardena et al, 2009). Hybrid identities
are shaped through the net-facilitated cultural flows, and the authors would suggest
'ideoculture' as the functional definition of Web 2.0 culture. Based on their research,
Gunawardena et al (2009) formulated a spiralling socially mediated metacognition as
a community of practice within an open source (Wiki) online environment: context →
discourse → action → reflection → reorganisation → socially mediated
metacognition, which could form the basis of organising discourse within social
technology-based lifelong learning.
Mentoring is crucial to such a formulation. The quality of learning needs to be
facilitated through further facilitation of the relationship between individual learners
with variously defined other learners in the group; and technology needs to be
geared to properly facilitate this. Writing a recent critical article in regard to network
organisations, Dutton (2008) underscored the importance of facilitation through
sharing, contributing, and co-creating within the network (in that order of increasing
quality), and concludes from research "that 'managing the wisdom of network
individuals' is more significant than the notion of the wisdom of crowds" (p.212).
Some of the issues raised that are of crucial importance to digital networks include a)
who captures the benefits, b) wisdom of crowds and collaborative problem-solving, c)
differences and commonalities of networks and their social, organisational and
technical underpinnings, d) forms of collaboration and e) balance of power, influence
and authority. While there is a need for facilitating enabling culture in an organisation
or institution to support individually-driven initiatives in technology-enabled
environment, both the form and content of the network patterns need to be studied
and enriched.
Further, alongside studying the structural constraints to individual or community
access to networked learning, critical to access and equity is to examine why people
participate in networked learning and to facilitate and enrich the participation. How
can the networks be individually geared within existing social norms? How to cater
for individual choices in a networked community within the normative social
expectations? Besides a host of myths/concerns (Panda, 2008), many such
questions need to be addressed for qualitative symbiosis of technology and lifelong
distance learning toward access and equity.
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Downes, S. (2006) Learning networks and connective knowledge. Retrieved July 11,
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Next Generation of Software. Retrieved July 11, 2009, from
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London/New York: Routledge.
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A. Ogunsola

Face-to-face Tutoring in Open and Distance Learning - The Nigerian

A. Ogunsola
National Institute for Educational Planning & Administration, Nigeria
Students studying through open and distance learning have very little
access to and support from tutors and fellow students. For many ODL
institutions, distance learning mainly involves learning through printed
materials. While these materials are interactive and self-instructional,
face-to-face dialogue, as in any educational endeavour, is still essential to
supplement the study guides. The focus of this study was to explore the
effectiveness of the face-to-face tutoring at the Open University of
Nigeria. Simple and stratified random sampling techniques were used to
sample 200 students from four study centres. A twelve-item questionnaire
titled Face to Face Tutoring Questionnaire (FFTQ) and structured
interview were used to generate data which was analyzed using
frequency, percentage and a two-way ANOVA. Among the major findings
of the study were that face-to-face tutoring (a) demonstrates
understanding for students’ particular problems due to the distance
education mode of study (67%); (b) provides guidelines on how to use the
study guide effectively and optimally (89.5%); (c) provides information
regarding writing of assignments (86.5%); (d) fosters deeper
understanding of subject matter through contextualizing and identifying
intra-relationships (87%); and (e) sex, age and location of the study
centre have no significant difference in the perception of the students
about the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring. Several recommendations
were made based on the findings.
Education, generally defined as preparation for life, plays a very crucial role in the
development of human resources in any given society. This is because education is
the preparation for every aspect of living, including satisfying people’s material
needs, the growth of their personal talents, as well as personal character. Above all,
education is also regarded as the vehicle to national development and prosperity.
Education also directly contributes to individual earnings and the growth of national
income. In today’s information societies where knowledge drives economic growth
and development, higher education plays a pivotal role as the main source of
knowledge – its production, dissemination and its absorption by society.
Higher education is also directly linked to socio-economic inequalities. According to
Varghese (2007) several studies have shown that income inequalities are higher
where enrolments in higher education are low. Empirical evidence from India cited by
Varghese (2007) indicates that higher education contributes significantly to a
reduction in absolute and relative poverty. Apart from its contribution towards national
development and poverty and inequality reduction, Varghese (2007) further lists
several other important benefits of higher education as including the following;
a) It ensures better employment, higher salaries and a greater ability to
consume and save.
b) Educating the poor helps to reduce inequalities and poverty
c) Universities are a symbol of self-reliance and provide new knowledge base
for policy decisions.
d) Universities help design curricula, develop textbooks, train teachers and
promote national languages and culture at all levels.
A. Ogunsola

e) Public universities contribute to the development of national education

policies with a secular outlook, thus protecting national identities and
traditions even when challenged by globalization.
In spite of self-evident importance of higher education, nationally and internationally
experiences have shown that conventional education is extremely hard pressed to
meet the demand for places, especially in developing countries like Nigeria. The
limitation of spaces in the universities imposes restrictions on access. Nearly every
senior secondary graduate would like to enter university; a demand that conventional
higher education would never be able to meet. This limitation in conventional higher
education provides open and distance education a unique competitive advantage to
provide unhindered access to higher education (Egerton University, 2004).
In 2008 the National Universities Commission and Committee of Vice Chancellors of
Nigerian Universities alerted the nation on the need to create space for prospective
students. This is due to the fact that during the 2008/2009 academic year only 153
000 of the 447 928 candidates qualified for university admission got places in the
existing universities because of limits imposed by the carrying capacities of Nigerian
universities. According to Adediran (2008) this situation is retrogressive considering
that Nigeria has 92 degree awarding institutions, made up of 27 federal universities,
31 state universities and 34 private universities. Given that this worrisome situation
could easily result in social unrest might have persuaded Odutola (2008) to implore
the nation to urgently do something to widen access to university education. To
achieve this he suggested the following:
a) Conscious and concerted injection of funds into the nation’s universities by
the proprietors of these institutions.
b) More private universities should be given operational licenses, while existing
universities should be strengthened to admit more students
Okebukola (2007) expressed worries about the inability of qualified candidates to get
university places and, to this end, put forward the following suggestions:
a) Re-introduction of the Higher School Certificate
b) Qualified polytechnics and colleges of education should be given degree
awarding status
c) The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) should be strengthened to
take in more prospective undergraduates.
With reference to the National Open University of Nigeria, Waits and Lewis (2003)
see the emergence of the system of open and distance learning as an inevitable and
phenomenal evolution in the history of educational development. Unlike the formal
education system with its inherent limitations regarding expansion, access, equity,
and cost- effectiveness, the growth of open and distance has now made the provision
of education more flexible, learner friendly, and multi-perspective in approaches to
teaching and learning. According to Zhanga & Perris (2004), these developments
have enhanced creativity, leadership and integrated development of human
personality. The emergence of distance education extended access to education to
those who had difficulty accessing conventional education, including the poor,
illiterate, women, marginalized groups and those living in remote areas.
Dhanarajan (2001) defines distance education as teaching and learning process in
which students are separated from the teachers by a physical distance which is often
bridged by communications technologies. Accordingly, distance education is the
means by which the teacher is taken literally to the student and not vice versa. Open
learning, on the other hand, refers to policies and practices that permit entry to
learning with no or minimum barriers with respect to age, gender, time and place and
with recognition of prior learning (Glen, 2005; Gagne & Shepherd, 2001). Therefore,
open and distance learning combines the two concepts to provide learners with
A. Ogunsola

greater opportunities to access education.

Open and distance learning is not completely new in the practice of higher education
in Nigeria. One form of distance education or another has been in force in Nigeria
since the colonial period. However, contemporary open and distance learning differs
considerably in a variety of ways from the traditional distance education. The model
of distance education institutions that have become a part of mainstream higher
education provision draws extensively on that of the Open University of United
Kingdom (OOUK), albeit with reasonable modifications to suit national contexts.
In Nigeria, open and distance learning was introduced to the university education
system in 1983 but only became functional in 2002 (National Open University of
Nigeria, 2006). It is a timely and phenomenal evolution in the history of Nigerian
higher education. The vision of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is to
be regarded as the foremost university providing highly accessible and enhanced
quality education anchored by social justice, equity, equality and national cohesion
through a comprehensive reach that transcends all barriers (Aleazi, 2006). NOUN
reflects a novel development in the provision of higher education in Nigeria. It is the
first full-fledged university that operates in an exclusively open and distance learning
(ODL) mode of education.
NOUN focuses mainly on open and distance teaching and learning system and
delivers its course materials predominantly via print, in addition to information and
communication technology (ICT). To Ryan (2000) open and distance learning
education courses are made up of a number of course components or learning
materials which can include any of the following: teaching texts, study guides, course
guides, readers or anthologies, assignments (with or without an accompanying tutor
guide), television broadcasts or videotapes, radio broadcasts or audiotapes, software
or online information and data, CD-ROMS, textbooks and laboratory materials.
Tuition materials, which could be in electronic form, are sent with questions to be
answered by students in their spare time. In addition, student support may be
provided through personal communication at local universities or through on-line
student tutors. Both the media used for open and distance learning and the student
support arrangements affect the possible level of interaction in open and distance
learning courses.
Where online support is provided, many instructor hours are devoted to creating an
"online presence" that gives learners a psychological perception that the instructor is
omnipresent and responding to them in an online class. According to Smith,
Ferguson and Caris (2001), without this psychological perception, students quickly
become insecure and tend to drop the class. Since most web-based courses rely
primarily on asynchronous communication in delivering course information to
students, instructors and students do not interact simultaneously. Instead, messages
are posted on a forum web page or are sent as email, and a reply is provided at
some unspecified later time. Any follow up questions are dealt with through additional
postings or messages with requisite delays. Overall, this process limits the amount
and depth of interactions regarding course materials and procedures (Wang &
Newlin, 2001). Within this context, it is trite that the credibility of any academic
system, including open universities, is contingent on the quality of academic inputs
and the teaching-learning processes that are put in place to create optimal learning
However, due to limited scope of interactions, open universities have traditionally
been regarded as second-rate institutions in comparison with the conventional
system (Hellman, 2003). This perception places a huge burden on open and distance
education institutions to establish systems that can ensure that their academic
functionaries are well prepared for the demands of face-to-face interactions and the
multi-tasking activities of open and distance learning.
Statement of the Problem
A. Ogunsola

There are several problems that face students studying through open and distance
learning. In contrast to students studying full-time on campus, distance learners have
very little access to and support from tutors and fellow students (Fredda, 2000). They
study mainly in isolation and have limited access to resources such as libraries,
appropriate study facilities and information communication technology. Some of
these students also differ from full-time students in the sense that they are part-time
adult students who have additional commitments of work, family and community
involvement. Studying is therefore often second, if not third, priority for the majority of
distance learners.
Studying through open and distance learning also means learning mainly through the
printed media. However, as in any form of educational endeavour, dialogue in
distance learning is essential to supplement the study guides. The objectives of
dialogue through face to face contact with distance learners include stimulating and
motivating students, helping students overcome academic difficulties and problems
of studying through ODL. The face-to-face tutor is expected to play a vital role in the
dialogue that should facilitate active learning. The purpose of this study was,
therefore, to examine the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring in the National Open
University of Nigeria (NOUN). This was done with a view to enhance quality learning
in ODL. To ensure a successful investigation, one main research question was asked
and three hypotheses were formulated.
Research Question
1. What are perceptions of students on the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring
in National Open University of Nigeria?
1. There is no significant difference in the perceptions of male and female
students on the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring at NOUN.
2. There is no significant difference in the perceptions of young and old students
on the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring at NOUN.
3. Location of a study centre has no significant difference on the students’
perceptions of the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring at NOUN.
Research Methodology
A survey research design was adopted in the study.
The population of the study was made up of all the students in all the study centres of
the National Open University of Nigeria in the six geo-political zones of the country.
Sample and Sampling Technique
Out of the six zones, four zones were randomly selected for the study. This
represents 67% of the population. This percentage is considered adequate for the
study. From each of the four zones, one state was subsequently randomly selected
to represent each zone. Fifty (50) respondents were also randomly selected in each
study centre, making a total of four study centres and two hundred (200) respondents
in the four centres.
Research Instrument
A questionnaire purposely designed for the study and structured interview were the
main instruments used for data collection. A twelve-item questionnaire titled Face to
Face Tutoring Questionnaire (FFTQ) was used to generate data. The instrument was
made up of two sections. Section A sought information about the demographic data
of the respondents while section B elicited information on students’ perceptions of the
A. Ogunsola

effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring.

Validity of the Instrument
The research instruments were subjected to expertise advice of education planners
and managers to ensure context and construct validity. The comments, suggestions
and corrections of the experts were carefully incorporated to improve the quality of
the instrument.
Reliability of the Instrument
The reliability of the questionnaire was determined by the use of test re-test
technique. A correlation coefficient of 0.87 was obtained which was high enough to
make the instrument largely reliable.
Technique for data collection
A total of two hundred (200) copies of the questionnaire were administered
personally by the researcher and three research assistants in four study centres. The
face-to-face interaction between the respondents and the researcher/research
assistants yielded a high rate of return. Consequently, hundred percent rate of return
was achieved.
Technique for Data Analysis
Frequency and percentage distributions were used to answer the research question.
Since the data are from scaled measures, a parametric test such as Analysis of
Variance (ANOVA) was considered appropriate for handling this data. Therefore, a
two-way ANOVA was utilized to test the null hypotheses. The decision criterion for
the rejection of the hypothesis formulated was set at the .05 alpha level.
Research Question 1: What percentage of students expressed positive perceptions
about the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring in National Open University of
The perceptions of the 200 respondents that were elicited through a twelve-item
questionnaire are captured in table 1 below.
Table 1: Students’ Perception of the Effectiveness of Face to Face Tutoring (N=200)
S/N Items Agree % Disagree %
Face-to-face tutoring demonstrates
1. understanding for students’ particular problems 134 66.7 66 33.3
due to the distance education mode of study.
Face-to-face tutoring provides guidelines on how
2. 179 89.5 21 10.5
to use the study guide effectively and optimally
Face-to-face tutoring provides information
3. 173 86.5 27 13.5
regarding writing of assignments
Face-to-face tutoring encourages students to
4. 139 69.5 61 30.5
take notes during tutorials
Face-to-face tutoring focuses students’ attention
5. on the process of independent thinking and 106 53.0 94 47.0
critical reflection
Face-to-face tutoring utilizes students’ ideas and
6. experiences in order to facilitate their deeper 158 79.0 42 21.0
understanding of and ability to apply knowledge
Face-to-face tutoring encourages students to
7. share experiences and successes they have had 120 60.0 80 40.0
in distance education
Face-to-face tutoring fosters deeper
8. understanding of subject matter through 174 87.0 26 13.0
contextualizing and identifying intra-relationships
9. Face-to-face tutors are regular for tutorials 178 89.0 22 11.0
10. Face to face tutors are punctual at tutorial 158 79.0 42 21.0
A. Ogunsola

Face-to-face tutoring provides opportunities for
11. 176 88.0 24 12.0
small group interaction
Face-to-face tutoring helps tutors to provide a
12. brief summary of what has been learnt towards 146 73.0 54 27.0
the conclusion of the tutorial
The data in table 1 show that about 67% (134) respondents agreed that face-to-face
tutoring demonstrates understanding for students’ particular problems due to the
distance education mode, while 89.5% (179) respondents affirmed that face-to-face
tutoring provides guidelines on how to use study guides effectively and optimally. On
the other hand, 86.5% (173) agreed that face-to-face tutoring provides information
regarding writing of assignments, while 69.5% (139 students) were of the opinion that
face-to-face tutoring encourages students to take notes during tutorials. Moreover,
only 53% of the 200 respondents believed that face-to-face tutoring focuses students’
attention on the process of independent thinking and critical reflection, while 79% of
the sample was of the opinion that face-to-face tutoring utilizes students’ ideas and
experiences to facilitate their deeper understanding of and ability to apply knowledge.
Sixty (60% or 120 of the respondents) affirmed that face-to-face tutoring provides
students the opportunity to share experiences and to compare notes on successes
and challenges they encounter in distance learning, while 87% (174 students) agreed
that face-to-face tutoring fosters deeper understanding of subject matter through
contextualizing and identifying intra-relationships. On the regularity of tutors, 89% of
the sample affirmed that the face-to-face tutors are regular for tutorials while 79% of
the respondents attested to the punctuality of their tutors. Furthermore, 88% of the
200 students were of the opinion that face-to-face tutoring provides opportunities for
small group interaction with 73% of the respondents affirming that face-to-face
tutoring helps tutors to provide a brief summary of what has been learnt towards the
conclusion of the tutorial.
Testing of Hypotheses
Ho 1: There is no significant difference in the perception of male and female students
on the effectiveness of face to face tutoring at NOUN.
The result obtained from the analysis in testing hypothesis one is shown in table 2.
Table 2: Two-Way ANOVA Result of Ho 1
Mean Distribution of Opinions
On Face to Face Tutoring Sig.
Sex N F- value Remark
Effective Not Effective
Male 133 20.40 10.00
1.660 4.730 Not Sig.
Female 67 18.80 9.50
p > .05
The ANOVA results in table 2 show that the mean distribution of male students with
the opinion that face to face tutoring is effective was 20.40, while the mean value for
the male students with the opinion that face to face tutoring is not effective was
10.00. On the other hand, the mean value of the females’ opinions that face-to-face
tutoring is effective was 18.80. The F-value of 1.660 was obtained which was not
significant at the alpha level of 0.05. Therefore, the null hypothesis of no significant
difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the effectiveness of
face-to-face tutoring was accepted. However, the mean value of both male and
female students that believed that face-to-face tutoring is effective exceeded the
mean value of those with a contrary opinion.
Ho 2: There is no significant difference in the perception of young and old students
on the effectiveness of face to face tutoring at NOUN.
The result obtained from the two-way analysis of variance in testing hypothesis two is
A. Ogunsola

presented in table 3
Table 3: Two-Way ANOVA Result of Ho 2
Mean Distribution of Opinions on Face to
Face Tutoring F- Sig.
Age N Remark
value value
Effective Not Effective
(21-30 82 18.80 9.70
1.850 4.880 Not Sig.
(31years& 118 20.40 8.70
p > .05
Data in table 3 shows that the mean distribution of opinions of young students of
NOUN that face-to-face tutoring is effective was 18.80 while the corresponding mean
distribution for older students was 20.40. The F- value of 1.850 was obtained which
was not significant at the 0.05 level of significance. The null hypothesis of no
significant difference between the perceptions of young and old students was not
Ho 3: Location of study centre has no significant difference on the students’
perception of the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring at NOUN.
The result obtained from the two-way ANOVA in testing hypothesis three is shown in
table 4. The results in table 4 show that the range between the highest and lowest
mean scores for effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring was 2.5, indicating that
students’ perceptions were not too different. As indicated in table 4 below, the
highest mean of 20.5 on the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring was obtained from
students of the Oyo study centre and the least mean value of 18.0 was from the
Rivers study centre.
Table 4: Two-Way ANOVA Result of Ho 3
Location/ Mean Distribution of Opinions on Face to
Face Tutoring F- Sig.
Study N Remark
value value
Centre Effective Not Effective
Bauchi 50 18.50 10.00

Kogi 50 19.00 8.50

1.410 4.650 Not Sig.
Oyo 50 20.50 10.00

Rivers 50 18.00 11.00

p > .05
It could be observed from the data in table 4 that the mean distribution of opinions of
students that face-to-face tutoring is effective were 18.00 (Rivers study centre); 18.50
(Bauchi study centre); 19.00 (Kogi) and 20.50 (Oyo). The mean values of opinions
that face-to-face tutoring is not effective are 8.50 for Kogi, 10.00 each for Bauchi and
Oyo and 11.00 for Rivers. An F value of 1.41 was obtained, which was not significant
at the 0.05 alpha level. Therefore, the null hypothesis of no significant difference on
the perception of the students on the effectiveness of face-to-face tutoring was
accepted. It is noteworthy that the mean distribution of opinions that face-to-face
tutoring is effective is higher than the mean value of the respondents who expressed
that face-to-face tutoring is not effective.
Discussion of Findings
The results of this study have shown that most of the students of the National Open
University of Nigeria (NOUN) are of the opinion that face-to-face tutoring has added
value to learning in the university through the provision of guidelines on how to use
A. Ogunsola

the study guide effectively and optimally; by providing information regarding writing of
assignments and utilizing students ideas and experiences to facilitate deeper
understanding, among other things. The findings of this study show that face-to-face
tutoring is actually achieving its purpose. The area of greatest area of agreement by
89.5% learners was that face-to-face tutoring provides guidelines on how to use the
study guide effectively and optimally, while the least area of agreement representing
53% learners was that face-to-face tutoring focuses students’ attention on the
process of independent thinking and critical reflection. However, there was overall
agreement by most learners that face-to-face tutoring is valuable to learners.
The analysis of the results also revealed that there is no significant difference in the
perception of both male and female students; young and old students and that the
location of the study centres do not have any significant difference in the perception
of the effectiveness of face to face tutoring. Furthermore, the mean distribution of the
students with the opinion that face to face tutoring is effective was higher than the
mean value of those that thought otherwise.
From the findings of this study, it can be concluded that students have a positive
opinion about the face to face tutoring and that it enhances learning.
Based on the findings of the study, the following recommendations are made:
 Tutors and students should be encouraged to attend the tutorial classes
regularly so as to derive maximum benefits that face to face tutoring offers.
 Students should form reading groups that could come together to study the
guide before and after the face to face classes so that grey areas can be
noted for discussion during the next face to face class.
 Face to face tutoring time should be optimally spent since dialogue enhances
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A. Ogunsola

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S. Tichapondwa Modesto

Trends in Distance Education Research in Southern Africa

S. Tichapondwa Modesto
Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning
This study explores and reflects on trends in distance education (DE)
research in Southern Africa, focusing on the structure, priority areas,
types of research methodologies, and research rigour evident in the
discipline of DE. It begins with an outline of the theoretical basis, then
seeks answers to the following three questions:
1. What is the structure of distance education research?
2. What methodologies are evident in the journal articles?
3. What is the quality of current research?
Data collected were subjected to descriptive and inferential analysis. After
selecting documented studies and analysing them, the study raises
important conclusions. The main one is that the studies tend to be rather
too descriptive and narrative; hence, they have somewhat weak
methodological foundations. This observation points to an element of
ordinariness, which led to the formulation of the ordinariness hypothesis
and specification of some recommendations. Two of the latter are that
researchers should broaden the scope of their research interest regarding
areas of research priority, and secondly, that practitioners should be
consciously exposed to more rigorous research methodologies.
Conventional systems of education are considered superior to distance education.
This is mainly because, over the years, scholars have established through research,
a range of theories and principles about conventional systems, a state of affairs that
has legitimised a subject like Chemistry or Physics as a discipline. However, DE is
yet to fully attain this legitimacy. Notwithstanding the view that it is an academic area
that is fast gaining momentum, a gap still exists in the literature as well as in practice
regarding its status as a discipline. Presently, the issue is investigated with reference
to DE research in Southern Africa.
The field is characterised by non-conformist and non-traditional approaches, which in
effect, question the existing norms of traditional education and seek to provide a new
orientation to educational processes, a perception captured in the various definitions
of the discipline (Wedermeyer, 1977; Moore, 1973; Peters, 1971; Holmberg, 1981).
Dohmen (1977:84) who perceives distance education as a non-conformist discipline
defines it as;
A systematically organised form of self-study in which student
counselling, the presentation of learning material, and securing and
supervising of students’ success is carried out by a team of teachers,
each of whom has responsibilities. It is made possible at a distance by
means of media, which can cover long distances. (emphasis mine)
The features of DE that I have highlighted in the preceding definition make it unique;
hence the need to engage in serious research about it. The need for research in DE
is reinforced by Evans (2000:2) who asserts that single-mode universities need to
undertake significant research activities, otherwise they may be considered inferior to
conventional universities on which they usually depend. This is further supported by
Moore (1988) and Jegede (1991) who consider it imperative for all activities and
practices within distance education to have a sound empirical base through research.
Additionally, practitioners are encouraged to engage in needs assessment for DE
research (, 2010). On the basis
of this understanding, this study investigates trends in DE with the aim of establishing
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

the extent to which rigorous research procedures and scholarship are reflected in DE
publications, especially journal articles.
Statement of the problem
A problem was perceived while reviewing a distance education journal article on
learning challenges faced by children of remote area dwellers of the Kalahari region.
For the first time I realised the dearth of published research in this area and, hence,
wondered whether there were other distance education research areas were under
researched, especially in Southern Africa. In reading the article I found it striking that
it described activities within a particular context, a case study of one remote area.
This caused me to wonder even further, not only about the areas of research
endeavour, but also about the types of research which scholars in the sub region
engage in. The article motivated me to widen my investigation, during which I
perceived a gap about the knowledge possessed by scholars relative to the status of
DE research in Southern Africa. It is noteworthy that DE is gradually, but steadily,
gaining legitimacy as a discipline in its own right (Keegan, 1990; Holmberg, 1996).
Elsewhere, scholars such as Mishra (1998) and Calvert (1995) have conducted
studies into methodological issues and priority areas for DE research. On the other
hand, the Horizon Report (2009) encourages research in dialogue about the potential
of collaborative learning and creative applications of emerging technologies.
However, comparable studies on the same subject in Southern Africa seem to be
scarce, hence the justification for the present investigation.
To address the problem, the following research questions were asked:
a. What is the structure of the research?
b. What are the priority areas of research?
c. What methodologies are evident?
d. How rigorous is the research?
Focus on the questions is expected to shed light on research trends as well as
suggest whether this is the sort of research that should be conducted and published
in order to advance the interests of DE as a discipline.
Published research in open and distance learning (ODL) is scarce in Southern Africa.
Progressio, the South African journal for open and distance learning practice, and the
newly launched (2007) DEASA-SADC CDE International Journal of Open and
Distance Learning are two instances of concrete research evidence. It is noteworthy
that since 2000 there has been increased interest in ODL issues in the region, and
the Distance Education Association for Southern Africa (DEASA) has continued to
organise annual conferences to promote research. Unfortunately, not all conference
papers result in publishable research papers. Most are concept papers that merely
give information about institutional practices. Such papers were not considered for
inclusion in the present study. Similarly, undergraduate and post-graduate research
studies that are not readily available for analysis were also not included in the study.
The focus of the present investigation is on 67 articles from the two afore-mentioned
peer reviewed Southern African based international journals. These articles were
published between 2000 and 2005 and 2007 and 2009 in Progressio and the
International Journal of Open and Distance Learning, respectively. However, this
paper acknowledges a limitation that arises from delimiting the scope of this
investigation to articles that appear in the two Southern African journals only and
excluding articles published by Southern African scholars in other international
journals, especially when such articles were a result of research conducted in
Southern Africa.
Theoretical grounding
In this section theoretical ideas drawn from relevant literature and pertaining to
distance education research are reflected upon, while criteria and ideas applied to
data are given specific explication in the methodology section.
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

The review of literature on research trends in DE presented in this study is anchored

on the fact that distance education fulfils the functions of an educational system as
explained by Koul (2000:51) who describes a DE system in the following way:
The relevance of any educational system ought to be adjudged in terms
of the criteria that give the system a significant social function. Thus it is
not presumptuous to say that the basic issue of credibility can be seen as
one of either success or failure to meet such criteria.
It may also be added that the system must have a cognitive function in addition to the
social one. The following four aims that characterise the functioning of an educational
system can be isolated as (a) giving instruction in skills, (b) building a cultivated
society, (c) advancing learning, and (d) transmitting knowledge in its various
manifestations. Arguably, distance education fulfils all these as a discipline and,
hence, any research DE should be undertaken with these characteristics in mind.
However, several scholars have drawn attention to some of the barriers to distance
education research, including Berge, Muilenburg and Haneghan (2002) who reported
that barriers to research in DE are greater at the initial stages of an organization. This
is mainly because there will not be clear systems of scholarship in place, apart from
other constraints like funding and lack of expertise. In trying to overcome barriers in
training and research, Cho and Berge (2002) have advised that leaders would find
solutions to reduce or minimise obstacles in their own institutions if they gave close
consideration to barriers faced by other organisations.
Research in DE ought to be systematic. Whatever research approach is used, it
should also culminate in the development of a cohesive theory. According to Keegan
(1990:5), “a theoretical basis would replace the ad-hoc way of responding to crisis
situations which normally characterise this field of education”. By definition, Moore
(1985:51) sees a theory as “simply an organisational statement of what is known, a
map of the field”. In this respect, therefore, twofold purposes of a good theory should
be to give practitioners a guide for practice and provide a summary of what has been
discovered in a given area of speculation.
According to Mishra (1998), systematic research in DE started in the 1950s, while the
first theoretical work, “Write, teach and learn”, was published in 1959 in East
Germany (Keegan, 1990:51). The establishment of the Open University (UK) in 1969
was a major milestone especially because of its concern for research. Today
reputable journals, including The American Journal of Distance Education (USA),
Distance Education (Australia), The Journal of Distance Education (Canada), and
Open Learning (United Kingdom) have been established. These developments
demonstrate how research has either generated theories about distance education or
has utilized such theories to feed back into distance education praxis (Jeffries, 2009).
Evans and Jakupec (1996) have divided DE research into three broad areas; namely,
the structure of DE research literature, methodological issues, and areas of research
priority. This theoretical guide is used in this study as foundation for investigating the
corpus of research literature in the two Southern African distance education journals.
Researchers have also come up with theories about areas of priority in DE research.
For example, Sherry (cited in Berge and Mrozowski 2004:2-4) came up with the
following research priority areas:
• Design issues
• Redefining roles of key participants
• Strategies to increase interactivity and active learning
• Learner support
• Operational issues
• Policy and management issues
• Equity and accessibility
• Cost/benefit trade-offs
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

• Technology selection and adoption

However, within the context of Southern Africa, Tichapondwa and Tau (2009) have
examined research in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa and came up with the
following compendium of research areas:
• Definition of distance education
• Open and distance learning in new environments
• Managing the distance education system
• Open and distance learning study materials
• Learner Support in DE
• Communication issues in DE
• Challenges and the future of DE
Gupta and Renu Arun (1986) and Panda (1992), in their analysis of DE in India gave
an equally comprehensive list of categories in the field. Calvert (1986) also provided
a conceptual framework for DE research in his discussion of Canadian progress in
systematic DE research.
The rigour of research in any discipline is accounted for by the methodologies used.
In that respect, DE is no exception. Phipps and Merisotis (1999) theorise about the
following four methodologies:
a) Descriptive research, defined as the collection of data through observation,
questionnaires, attitude scales and interviews.
b) Case study research, which involves a detailed investigation of one or more
instances of a phenomenon.
c) Correlational research, which is described as the collection of data in order to
determine whether a relationship exists between two or more quantifiable
d) Experimental research, which tests hypotheses concerning cause and effect.
A fifth methodology was proposed by Naidu (2004) as:
e) Evaluation study, which is concerned with systematic acquisition of feedback
on use, worth, and impact of some object in relation to its intended outcome.
With specific reference to the descriptive category, Naidu (2004:3) makes the
interesting observation that “good descriptive research comprises valid and reliable
data, which reveal interesting trends, and chart new directions”. The definition of
each type is given, and the positive and negative characteristics of each are detailed
in the methodology section. The five methodology categories will be used for
adjudicating the rigour of research articles in this paper.
In the review of research literature, it struck me that a new area of research priority,
additional to categories by Sherry (cited in Berge and Morozwski 2004), is emerging.
It is referred to as research about research. This is an interesting phenomenon
because preoccupation with research about research addresses core issues of DE
as a discipline. In particular the practice seeks answers to the central question: Why
research in DE? The present study focuses on this area of scholarship.
Daniel (2002) identifies three reasons for researching DE learning; namely, evidence,
expectations and environmental considerations. Evidence refers to the information
gathered as a result of personal commitment and the academic mode of thinking. By
undertaking a study, the researcher gains more evidence and forms hypotheses that
increase knowledge about DE.
Regarding expectations, Daniel (2002) reports that great stakeholder expectations
have been inspired by the resurgence of DE. Societies have come to expect that DE
can bring about radical changes to education and create opportunities for mobility
where conventional education systems have failed (Tichapondwa, 2008). Therefore,
researchers have a duty to inform whether such expectations are grounded in reality.
Meanwhile, the environment in which DE is introduced is of importance to research,
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

whether it is a new or changing environment replete with challenges (Tichapondwa &

Tau, 2009). In such environments, conventional education which has held sway for
centuries has become comparatively more stable, while DE is regarded as inchoate.
Researchers in DE have a duty to inform and guide by articulating how responsive
DE research is to environmental imperatives, such as demand for certain courses
and the feasibility of delivering them through DE. Jeffries (2009) adequately
addresses this in his discussion of the advance of technology in DE. The three
reasons for research are fulfilled through the conduct of research in discourse that is
unique, esoteric and peculiar to DE. However, a cursory comment of the application
of DE research findings in environments different from, but comparable to, the one in
which the study was originally conducted is appropriate at this point.
According to Cookson (2002), distance education research practices of one country
may not necessarily successfully transfer to other national and cultural contexts. He
goes on to state that “despite that premise, my assumption is that if we focus on the
principles that underlie specific practices, specific innovations originating in one
national and cultural context may more likely be adapted to fit other national and
cultural contexts” (p152). There can be no grounds to dispute the assumption. In
actual fact the assumption is even more pertinent to DE research in Southern Africa,
where contexts across the regions are comparable.
For a research study to suit national and cultural contexts, the age-old issues of
reliability and validity will always remain critical criteria for assessing the structure
and methodological rigour of research studies. Validity refers to the extent to which
results can be generalized from a given sample to populations, while reliability is the
extent to which independent researchers can reproduce a study and obtain results
similar to those in the original study.
The foregoing is consistent with the thesis for this study; which is, if ODL institutions
are to increase shared knowledge and praxis in the field, their effectiveness would
depend on how far academics demonstrate genuine commitment to research. Such a
commitment can be forged and reinforced by a concerted programme of enquiry and
a quest for increased quality in the discipline that has come to be known as distance
education. Both quantitative and qualitative research benefit from cross-cultural
comparison, rather than from claustrophobic focus on narrowly focused concerns.
This section focuses on procedures used for data collection and analysis and covers
sampling, structure and priority areas, methodologies evident in the articles and
qualitative testing for the rigour of articles.
Data were collected from a sample of 34 articles from Progressio and 33 from the
International Journal of Open and Distance Learning. For the former, the articles
were drawn from volumes 22 through 27, published online between 2000 and 2005.
For the latter, 16 articles were drawn from volumes 1 and 2 and abstracts for 17
articles submitted for volume 3 (2007 to 2009). These were then analysed using pre-
specified categories as the analytical framework. In brief, the criteria were that each
article be published between 2000 and 2009 and that it should provide a description
of the methodology used in conducting the research reported in the article.
To establish areas of research priority, the nine areas proposed by Panda (1992)
were used. Additionally, a tenth category, research and scholarship, was suggested
in keeping with trends in international research. The ten pre-specified categories are:
1. Concept, growth and development.
2. Curriculum/course planning and development
3. Instruction/ teaching
4. Media and technology
5. Learners and learning
6. Institutional policy and management
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

7. Economics of distance education

8. Evaluation of a phenomenon
9. Staff development
10. Research and scholarship
The last mentioned area has become an important and regular aspect of study in
distance education research (see Berge and Mrozowski, 2004). Together with the
nine areas proposed by Panda, the typology was used to adjudicate the categories
of the sampled articles. A determination of the areas attracting most attention, and
those attracting the least will be made, supported with evaluative comments.
To test for the types of research methodologies used, the typology proposed by
Phipps and Merisotis (1999:12) was applied, together with that proposed by Naidu
(2004). Each type has a clear definition of what it purports to cover. This is followed
by a characterization of the positive and negative features of each methodology in
order to qualify each study type. It is these features that would lift the study from a
mere description of research types to the crucial evaluation of the rigour identifiable
in 67 research articles sampled for analysis. A summary of the pre-specified notions
(method types and characteristics of individual methods) is presented in table 1.
Table 1: Types of research methodologies
Category Positive features Negative features
Descriptive: Comprises valid and reliable Tells nothing new; only
collection and data; reveals trends; innovative reports what was done and
reporting of data on and charts new directions; why; boring; not creative or
organizations, contributes to what is already ambitious about description;
programmes and known; has validated crudely developed
processes. measurement tools. instruments
Case Study: in-depth Has a character, totality and a Narrates a story; does not
study of one project, or clear boundary; reflects some go beyond dry description;
one subject, presented unity in the phenomenon being boring; not innovative; no
in narrative form. reported; seeks patterns, critical analysis; crudely
regularity, and commonality in developed instruments.
the study.
Correlation: involves Reveals a clear relationship; Mainly descriptive and
collecting data to provides estimation of how narrative; data collected
determine if, and to related the two variables are. using crudely developed
what extent a instruments
relationship exists
between two or more
Experimental: tests Manipulates the independent Use of crudely developed
hypothesis concerning variable to determine its effect instruments; poor control;
cause and effect of on the dependent variable; descriptive presentation.
one variable on subjects are assigned to
another. experimental and control
groups; systematic selection of
subjects to eliminate bias.
Evaluation: studies Aims at influencing decision- Narrates or describes
the systematic making; can be formative, phenomena; little evidence
acquisition of summative, or monitoring of critical analysis and
feedback on the use, evaluation; studies the impact judgment; data collected
worth, and impact of and outcomes of processes using crudely developed
some object in relation designed to contribute to instruments.
to intended outcome. solution of a problem
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

One negative feature characteristic of all five types is foreknowledge of outcome, that
is, the researcher already knows the result before carrying out the study (Naidu,
2004). As an example, a topic like: “Problems faced by distance education learners
at X College”, is not likely to surprise the reader mainly because problems of that
nature might have already been researched into and are accessible in DE literature
without necessarily conducting research.
In some cases, an article can use multiple research methods, as when a case study
combines with descriptive study. In the analysis of data, only the primary method will
be recorded. In this case the study would be classified as a case study, and not a
descriptive study. Each study was classified under the categories proposed by Panda
(1992), and those for research methodology by Phipps and Merisotis (1999).
Data interpretation was both statistical and qualitative. Statistically, frequencies and
percentages were computed and conclusions drawn. Qualitatively, articles were
subjected to analysis for purposes of determining the rigour evident in the use of
each type of methodology. In particular, the positive and negative features of each
methodology were used as criteria for quality evaluation.
The main limitation of the study was that only two journals constituted sources of
data for the 67 articles, while international journals which carried articles by Southern
African researchers were excluded. Compared to the database of 890 articles drawn
from four international journals in the study by Berge and Mrozowski (2004), the
number of articles in the present study is severely limited. Given that limitation it can,
however, be argued that the limitation is reflective of the infancy state of research in
the region, where the number of journals is limited and the frequency of publishing is
erratic. It is, nevertheless, progressive to start with what is available, though limited,
than to wait for a period of plenty whose advent cannot be predicted.
Closely linked with the above limitation is the one about applicability. In compliance
with the academic mode of thinking, research results are meant to be externally valid
and ipso facto transferable to comparative scenarios. If the database is limited, it
follows that this has a constraining effect on applicability. Notwithstanding this logic,
analysis of the articles in the current study has been conducted in depth. This is an
important mitigating factor because in-depth discussion of little material gives more
insight into comparable situations. Further, it is a defensible argument that effort has
to begin at some point, and that such a point is probably now when developments in
ODL are gathering momentum faster than during any decade since the 1950s.
This section presents results in three parts. First are results on the priority areas of
distance education research, followed with statistical results on the methodology
types. The third section presents qualitative results based on interpretation of articles
against the positive and negative criteria characterizing each methodology.
The priority areas
Table 2 below reflects the findings on the areas of research priority already alluded
to, following Panda’s areas of research priority.
Table 2: Distribution of areas of research priority in the articles (N= 67)
No. of
Area Percentage
1. Concept, growth and development 7 10.4
2. Curriculum/course planning and development 4 6.0
3. Instruction/teaching 11 16.4
4. Media and technology 10 15.0
5. Learners and learning 13 19.4
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

6. Institutional policy and management 7 10.4

7. Economics (of distance education) 1 1.5
8. Evaluation (of a phenomenon) 11 16.4
9. Staff development 1 1.5
10. Research and scholarship 2 3.0
Total 67 100
The majority of articles, 35 out of 67 or 52.2%, are on the three areas concerned with
learner support, with the category of learners and learning at the top, followed by
articles concerned with instruction/teaching and evaluation of learning processes
(accounting for 16.4% each). This is followed by the area of media and technology in
learning support that was covered by 10 (15 %) of the articles. Almost all the articles
in this category were concerned with how media can best be used to support the
learner. This category is largely about learner support and, hence, it raises the
number of articles on learner support to 67%. The areas of next preference for
researchers in Southern Africa are areas of concepts, growth and development, and
institutional policy and management, each covered by 10.4% articles. Surprisingly,
curriculum/course planning and development account for only 6%, while 3% articles
were on research and scholarship category.
What emerges from these results is that each of the ten areas of priority objectified
using the analytical framework was represented in the literature, with learner support
being the most preferred research area. This appears consistent with the literature,
which indicates that pedagogy/learner support, as opposed to staff development,
economics of DE and research and scholarship, are more commonly discussed. This
resonates with the findings by Schlosser and Anderson (1994:16) that “because the
field is so practical, research in distance education has been dominated by attempts
to answer questions of immediate, practical significance. This led researchers to
emphasise questions dealing with students”.
It can be concluded that currently, research effort in the sub region is more focused
on pedagogy; hence, there is much greater need for awareness to conduct research
in other areas. Research literature shows a comprehensive and balanced
accommodation of all the structural areas of DE research, which appears not to be
the case in a preponderance of research conducted in Southern Africa.
The type of methodologies
Table 3 below lists categories of research methodologies; the first four by Phipps and
Merisotis (1998) and the fifth one by Naidu (2004). The results of this investigation
show that a majority of the 67 pieces of research used descriptive approach (40.2%),
closely followed with case studies at 38.8%, evaluation studies (13.4%), then
correlational (4.5%) and, finally, experimental studies (3.1%).
Table 3: Categories of research methodology
Category No. of articles %
Descriptive study 27 40.2
Case study 26 38.8
Experimental study 2 3.1
Correlational study 3 4.5
Evaluation study 9 13.4
Total 67 100
Results in table 3 above, which show that all the five types of research methods are
represented in distance education research carried out in Southern Africa is
comparable to what obtains internationally (Berge and Mrozowski, 2004). Second,
there is greater preference by researchers in Southern Africa for descriptive or case
study methodologies over other research methods. In actual fact, as will be
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

elucidated later, it is difficult to distinguish between these two methods. The results of
this study show that where a descriptive was the primary method, more often than
not, the case study method was used conjointly, and vice versa. However, a
disturbing pattern was the dearth of experimental studies. The well-known argument
in support of this trend is that experimental studies are most rigorous and scientific
and less applicable to social settings. When viewed that way, the results probably
show some inclination towards less rigorous research in DE studies conducted in
Southern Africa.
Qualitative analysis
In undertaking qualitative analysis of the distance education research conducted in
Southern Africa, this study considered the attribute of quality as excellence regarding
the way categories of research priority, methodology, and structure were handled in
the articles. As Cookson (2002:2) puts it, “excellence is the state of being good or
superior relative to certain standards”. For example, a study on interactive learning is
said to be of quality if the researcher shows a comparative perspective of the
research area and chooses the most appropriate methodology against the criteria of
reliable and valid data. In this regard, consideration was also given to innovativeness,
revelation of trends in the discipline, generation of new directions and knowledge in
the subject under investigation and the study’s contribution to existing knowledge. In
exploring quality, the key features of each methodology type presented in table 1
were used to analyse the quality of research articles.
Only 5 of the 27 descriptive studies reflected some of the positive criteria noted in
table 1. One of the articles “Towards facilitating a human rights culture at a distance”
(Progressio, 25(1) 2003), while dealing with the common theme of culture using a
survey approach, goes beyond mere description to collect valid contextual data and
contribute to how findings on human rights in distance education could be
generalized to comparable situations. Similarly, the topic: “Using the Internet to keep
track of new developments in distance education” (Progressio, 22(2) 2000),
describes a context in which the internet is used in the conduct of DE. In the process
the article manages to validate ways of managing learning. This represents an
innovative way that charts new directions for DE providers.
The article “Learning support in a severely underdeveloped context as experienced
by distance learners” (International Journal of Open and Distance Learning 1(1)
2007), uses attitude scales and interviews to collect data in the context of a San
community in the Kalahari. The description, though narrative, makes use of validated
tools and reflects innovativeness when dealing with the subject. To demonstrate the
effectiveness of this study, the Commonwealth Secretariat sponsored a conference
(15-20 February 2009) in Botswana to look at ways of reaching nomadic populations
in Africa. This was a follow-up to publication of the article and related circumstances.
Good descriptive studies should bring out evidence of what happens in the field and
meet reader expectations, otherwise “no one wants to read a description…if there is
nothing inherently creative or ambitious about the process” (Naidu, 2004:3).
However, a majority of studies that dealt with topics such as quality assurance, face-
to-face interaction, teaching management, and learning materials used interviews,
questionnaires and document analyses. While these are acceptable data collection
tools, what was most striking was that the instruments, especially questionnaires, did
not seem to have been carefully thought out or validated. On the other hand, a
majority of the studies told nothing new other than simply reporting or narrating
challenges faced by distance education learners. There was very little creativity, if
any, about the approaches to the studies, and apart from specifying what was
happening in a given situation, there was no attempt to go beyond by infusing what
Mishra (1998) has called cross-cultural insights. These seems to agree with Naidu’s
(2004:3) observations that there are more of bad than good studies and that “the bad
ones, and there are plenty of these, are boring, and they tell you nothing new.”
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

What the researcher thought was even more disturbing was the apparent possession
of foreknowledge of the research outcome. It appeared individual researchers knew,
for example, what the challenges were or what the benefits of face-to-face tutorials
were even before collecting data. In essence, this defeated the whole purpose of
conducting research. Commenting on this type of methodology, Minnis (1985)
observed that “most research remains overwhelmingly descriptive. The focus is
narrow, with emphasis on particular institutional problems”. Results from the present
study revealed that in the context of Southern Africa the situation is very similar.
On the other hand, studies that used case study methodology specified the context
as well as challenges in a given aspect of distance education within an institution and
then indentified institutional strategies used. This was followed by a defence of the
ways used to overcome the challenges. Three out of 26 articles that were singled out
as being most rigorous in the manner of reporting include “Managing a tutorial
system: The UNISA ABET experience” (Progressio, 27(1) 2005), which was based
on a survey of stakeholder views. This presented a clear boundary and a character of
the case. Data collection was consistent with the instruments used, and the analysis
led to conclusions that were considered to be truly representative of any DE case.
Patterns of managing tutorials emerged and these could be applied to similar
Though the case study: “Perceptions as factors of media selection: A case of the
University of Zambia” (International Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 3(1)
2009) made specific observations about the particular situation, the results were
striking on account of the uniqueness of perceptions, though some were general. The
study brought out some commonality as well as some divergence, which would be of
interest to DE practitioners. In that regard the literature contributes to what is already
known, albeit in a creative fashion. Similarly, the article “The effects of editing print-
based materials on accessibility: a pilot study” (Progressio 27(2) 2005) made a
related contribution. In fact, the requirements of a good case study research are not
too different from those of a good descriptive research.
A majority of case studies dealt with the themes of study materials, tutorial systems,
electronic media usage, learner expectations, management of learners constraints
faced by women learners, etc. Analysis of literature revealed certain trends. All
studies tended to tell stories by describing phenomena, while in a majority of cases
there was no focus on the innovativeness of what was being described. One would
have expected critical analysis that would have led to novel insights that could be
generalized to populations. The use of instruments such as oral interviews did not tap
into issues supposed to be guided by DE theories. The narratives move pedestrian
fashion; for example description of a delivery technology or how a regional manager
manages a region. This has led some scholars to criticizing this research type as
weak (Mitchell, 1991). In other words, the majority of research publications, across
the five methodology types, are characterized by the sort of ordinariness that rouses
little excitement or surprise in the reader.
Regarding correlation, evaluation, and experimental studies, there are few of these.
The point to make is that what was analysed of these studies bore similarities with
the two that have already been discussed. This is in terms of choice of instruments,
innovativeness and contribution to knowledge. As in descriptive and case study
research, there were exceptions of good studies in all three.
On experimental research it would noted that it is the only type of research that can
truly test hypotheses concerning cause and effect relationships. It is known for being
objective and can contribute new knowledge. However, out of 67 articles only two
were experimental, and both from the International Journal of Open and Distance
Learning (2007 & 2009). The article on “Insights from the Socratic Method” based its
conclusions on the performance of two groups (dependent variable) following
application of two different methods of tutoring (independent variable). The results
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

were instructive, and led to a review of face-to-face teaching methods by at least two
institutions, which had come across the article. The article: “Comparison of distance
education modes of training teachers in Ghana”, which examined the use of DE in
teacher education used purposive and simple random sampling techniques. Four
hypotheses were formulated and tested using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). The
study revealed statistically significant differences among teachers exposed to various
modes of training.
Unfortunately, few researchers engage in experimental studies. Secondly, the only
two systematic studies analysed showed greater potential to contribute to knowledge
that could readily be applied in solving DE problems. However, the result that there
are not many experimental studies does not come as a surprise when the scenario is
compared with research elsewhere. Naidu (2004) found that the studies he analysed
were of survey and descriptive in nature, of which less than one-third were
experimental. This is significantly higher than for Southern African, where only 3.1%
of the studies were experimental.
This investigation was guided by questions on the structure of DE research; whether
research in Southern Africa meets expectations and the methodologies commonly
used. Presently, we look at the implications drawn from the findings, bearing in mind
conclusions drawn in the previous section and the theoretical views spelt out in the
literature review. Recommendations will then be made as a way of improving the
quality of research.
One of the conclusions is that there is a dominance of articles whose emphasis is on
the interests of practitioners. This was evident in the high number of articles in the
area of learner support, teaching and interactive learning. On the other hand, there
were important research areas, including economics, staff development and
scholarship, that did not receive much attention. The implication is that research has
not yet matured enough to be as inclusive as would be expected in the progress of
DE as a discipline. It is, therefore, recommended that researchers make a more
conscious effort to broaden their research interests.
It was also concluded that most research remains overwhelmingly descriptive and
narrowly focused on institutional problems. This trend makes it difficult to come up
with generalizations beyond the specific case studies, let to apply to the rest of the
sub region. It is, therefore, recommended that practitioners develop, as a matter of
academic priority, cross-cultural and national and regional comparative perspectives.
The weak methodological footing, noted as a trend in the articles, calls for re-tooling
of researchers. The re-tooling activity implies that institutions should make a
conscious effort to expose professionals and any interested DE stakeholders to ideas
about practitioner research and, in particular, to more rigorous methodologies. This
can best be done through staff development courses for practitioners.
The scarcity of experimental research has already been noted and given that such
research has the potential to yield more meaningful results, the need to engage more
in experimental research cannot be overemphasised. Admittedly, experimental
research is hard to carry out properly in DE contexts due to the difficulty of controlling
for confounding variables in such open settings. However, the increasing effort to
conduct research in many of our institutions suggests that researchers in the region
cannot continue to eschew studies of an experimental nature. Innovativeness, re-
tooling, and academic commitment should be foundational to research efforts. To
move away from mediocre research, characterised by ordinariness, it is needful to
embrace empiricism.
One trend that was also noted in the majority of articles is the lack of sound
theoretical underpinning for researched topics. In order to conduct studies more
effectively, researchers are well advised to support such efforts with theoretical ideas
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

that will serve as a framework for investigation. In the absence of such grounding,
research effort becomes a hit and miss affair, risking guesswork, which is anathema
to scholarship.
The four general concerns noted above as evidence of trends in DE research are
focus on a limited number of areas of research priority, a weak methodological base
that is largely descriptive and focusing mainly on institutional problems, the scarcity
of experimental research and the lack of theoretical grounding. These trends lead to
a formulation a ‘theory of ordinariness’, which applicable to any research endeavour
where the quality of excellence is compromised because of the prevalence of the four
characteristics. Ordinariness is typified by overt reliance on the commonsensical
rather than the empirical when making a research presentation.
Ordinariness theory hypothesises that there is a lack of innovativeness and a
dependence on narrating institutional platitudes. From that perspective, research
literature brings out evidence of limited applicability that fails to meet expectations of
what we should see happening in DE as a discipline. However, I wish to argue that
ordinariness typifies a passing phase in the research culture of a given environment.
In Southern Africa, DE research is still in its early stage - the infancy stage. It is
characterised by a great deal of enthusiasm to inform, but limited skill and training.
This stage passes when training is consciously sought in order to appreciate the
scope and procedures rated to be more scholarly. The direct result would be a
maturing research orientation evident in the quality of excellence in works of
research. In the conscious furtherance of DE research, organisations should
consciously strive to identify barriers (cf. barriers already discussed in the section
dealing with theoretical grounding) in their situations, and address them squarely
guided by lessons drawn from comparable circumstances.
In view of the foregoing, the major contribution of this study is that it informs. By
discussing the structural characteristics of DE research, it fed back into the theory of
the discipline by characterising priority areas of research into categories. The
research demonstrated that both the categories of priority areas and those of
methodology types can be used as analytical frameworks applicable to the
adjudication of literature. The study also illustrated how specific criteria, negative and
positive, can be used to determine the quality of journal articles. In the process, the
issue of rigour was demonstrated. In view of the quality of the majority of articles, and
informed by comparison with research findings elsewhere, the study came up with
the ordinariness theory. Above all, the investigation established trends in research
efforts in Southern Africa. Now that this initial exploratory study is in place, aspiring
researchers can tap on the findings and shape their research focus from a more
informed perspective. In addition, this study promotes debate in the critical area of
This paper aims at stimulating constructive scholarly debate. In addition, the paper
seeks to share reflections on the status of scholarship in the sub-region. Distance
education has, over the years, distinguished itself from the conventional education
systems and is developing research methodologies unique to it, albeit, areas where it
overlaps with conventional education. Southern Africa has embraced DE as a viable
system that brings with it numerous measurable benefits. For that reason, this study
set out to explore trends and directions in research scholarship in the field, fed back
into existing theory, and led to formulation of ordinariness theory on the basis of
proven facts about the structure and content of the articles reviewed. It is hoped that
the study has triggered meaningful debate that should lead to an improved
awareness of what is at stake for the innovative practitioner in the nascent field of
distance education.
S. Tichapondwa Modesto

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R. Chireshe & A. Otto

Challenges faced by Distance Education Learners: A case study of

Kyambogo University, Uganda
R. Chireshe, Walter Sisulu University
D. Okot & A. Otto, Kyambogo University, Uganda
This paper reports the results of an exploratory study that investigated the
challenges faced by distance learners on the Diploma in Education
Primary External (DEPE) programme at Kyambogo University in Uganda.
A sample of one hundred (N=100) second and third year distance
learners from Kibuli, Lodonga, and Christ the King centres took part in the
study. A survey design was used. The SPSS version 10.0 was used to
analyze the data. The study identified a number of challenges being faced
by DEPE students. The challenges include lack of time and resources,
work pressures and responsibilities, domestic interruptions, isolation,
death in the family, slow feedback, inaccessibility of counsellors, late
delivery of modules and financial problems. Recommendations, based on
the findings, are made on how to alleviate some of the challenges.
Background to the study
The Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo University, (ITEK) introduced the
Diploma in Education Primary External (DEPE) in May 1999 to meet the high
demand for Universal Primary Education (UPE). Primary school teachers were to
upgrade themselves through distance learning. This is in line with the general belief
that distance education provides unparalleled opportunities for students in remote
rural areas and in-service teachers who want to study while working (Dhanarajan,
2000; Bertram, 2000).
Distance learning is always considered as an important form of acquiring education
and knowledge especially for those learners who need flexibility in time, space and
objective. In distance learning the tutor and the student are separated in time and/or
location. Beside flexibility, distance learning makes it possible for learners to access
high-quality courses from the best educational institutes around the world, instead of
being restricted to what is available to them locally (Kamran, 2005).
Literature on distance education programmes tends to suggest that distance learners
encounter many challenges in their studies (Akinade, 1998). Research further states
that the benefits of distance learning notwithstanding, distance learners still face
several challenges such as higher dropout rates compared to campus based learning
(Kamran, 2005). Other challenges faced by distance learners include lack of time,
work pressures and responsibilities, domestic interruptions, isolation and shortage of
finance (Chireshe & Peresuh in press; Bharati, 2004; Jegede & Kirkwood, 1994;
Mclntoch, 1974; Molefi, 1998; Perraton, 1993; Rowntree, 1992; Thorpe, 1988). Dass
(2001), on the other hand, identified time management and study related problems
as two major challenges faced by distance learners in Malaysia.
According to Gous, Haasbroek, Gieyling and Du Toit (1982), distance learners are
adults who have missed or had no earlier opportunities for academic and
professional advancement. Most of these learners lack post-school education; hence,
student problems such as writing and language fluency are both understandable and
more acute among distance learners. This observation is supported by Purvis (1979)
who contends that reading and learning skills of distance learners are generally poor.
As a result, some distance learners find it very difficult to read a unit or take notes.
Meanwhile, Gous et al., (1982) have suggested that the challenges of distance
learners usually fall into one or more categories that include time management, lack
of concentration, motivation to study, personal or emotional difficulties.
Daniel and Maquins (1983) argue that although distance learners are usually highly
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

motivated, they often find family and professional obligations competing with their
studies for the little spare time they have available. In addition to shortage of time,
Mapfumo (1995 a), Molefi (1998) and Chireshe & Peresuh (in press) have pointed
that distance learners lack access to library facilities where they find much needed
resources for their assignments.
Mapfumo (1995a) further argues that most distance learners are physically far away
from the institutions that provide tuition, that is, they are isolated from lecturers and
other learners. They will therefore spend long hours working on their own with no one
to ask or assist immediately. Further, they do not receive regular feedback from
lecturers that fulltime students would normally get. This isolation results in frustration
and poor performance in coursework and examinations. Furthermore, distance
learners have little academic and psychological support from their families (Bharati,
2004). Besides isolation, Purvis (1979) feels that distance learners may receive a raw
deal from part-time tutors. For part-time tutors, pressure of work elsewhere and/or
lack of motivation may prevent them from becoming academically competent in the
areas they teach, thus disadvantaging their students.
Distance learners do not receive as much of the educational guidance as they need
(Mapfumo, 1995 b; Bharati, 2004). There is no doubt that students need services that
enhance their problem solving skills in personal, family and career-related matters. It
has been observed by professionals and students that distance learning tutors lack
adequate training in guidance and counselling. Therefore, challenges faced by
distance learners who need guidance and counselling sevices are not always well
looked after (Mapfumo, 1995b).
In view of the above information on challenges faced by distance learners, the
present study sought to investigate the challenges experienced by distance learners
enrolled on the DEPE programme at Kyambogo University, with a view to coming up
with some possible solutions and recommendations. The findings of this study may
empower Kyambogo University to plan and revive its student support systems so as
to make it more appropriate to the needs of the distance learners. Student support
systems are an important factor in student learning and distance education (Morse &
Turman, 1996; Kinyanjui, 1998). In addition, the results of this exploratory study may
suggest potential research areas for future investigation.
At the local level, the researcher is not aware of formal systematic research
undertaken at Kyambogo University to establish the challenges faced by distance
learners. Since the University intends to establish degree programmes by distance in
future, it is necessary to establish the challenges faced by those already studying by
distance and use the findings to enhance future distance education programmes.
Statement of the problem
A survey of the literature has demonstrated that distance learners face a number of
challenges (Bharati, 2004; Perraton, 1993; Purvis, 1979; Daniel & Maquins 1983;
Mapfumo, 1995a; Chireshe & Peresuh, in press; Kamran, 2005; Dass, 2001; Jegede
& Kirkwood, 1994). Accordingly, this study investigated challenges faced by Diploma
in Education Primary External (DEPE) students at Kyambogo University and whether
these were affected by learners’ demographic characteristics.
The following hypotheses were formulated for this study:
1. There are no significant differences in the challenges faced by male and
female students.
2. There are no significant differences in the challenges faced by students from
different centres.
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

A survey design, which was mainly quantitative, was used in this study. Preference
for survey design was informed by a desire to cover a wide geographical area and
achieve greater representativeness and extrapolation of the findings. In addition, the
quantitative approach was considered most appropriate to explore relationships and
test hypotheses.
The sample for this study was drawn from all second and third year Diploma in
Education Primary External (DEPE). The purpose and importance of the study were
explained to the learners prior to their participation. The sample comprised 100
second and third year DEPE students from Kibuli (40), Lodonga (30), and Christ the
King Gulu (30) centres. The three centres were chosen to ensure representativeness
in terms urban, rural, and remote centres and even Internally Displaced Centres
(IDC). The sample comprised 51 males and 49 females.
The researchers adopted a structured questionnaire used by Chireshe and Peresuh
(in press) in a study of challenges faced by distance learners of the Zimbabwe Open
University (ZOU). The instrument, which appears in the appendix 1, had a correlation
coefficient of 0.8. Finally, this questionnaire had also been used on a sample of
learners whose characteristics were similar those of learners on the current study.
The researchers personally distributed the questionnaire to volunteer second and
third year Diploma in Education Primary External (DEPE) learners at Kibuli, Lodonga,
and Christ the King centres during the January 2008 face-to-face sessions.
Data analysis
Quantitative data from this study was analysed using the Statistical Packages for the
Social Sciences (SPSS) version 10.0. The responses from the open-ended items
were analysed by using a theme analysis approach where dominant themes within
the data emerged and were highlighted.
Table 1 shows major challenges experienced by that the research sample include
time shortage, role conflict, library inaccessibility, work pressure, and lack of study
skills, exam preparation techniques, and counselling facilities, unfair marking, slow
turnaround time, financial challenges and death in the family. However, Chi-square
analysis showed that there were no significant differences on the effect of challenges
on female and male students; hence the hypothesis that there were no significant
gender-wise differences in the challenges could not be rejected.
Table 1: Distribution of students’ responses by gender (N=100)
Yes No
4 47(92.2
Male X2 = 0.003;
(7.8%) %)
Enough time df=1;p>0.05
4 45(91.8
Female Non significant
(8.0%) %)
5 46(90.2
(9.8%) %) X2 = 7.86; df=1;
Enough resources
16(32.7 33(67.3 p<0.05 significant
%) %)
Male Colleagues near 32(62.7 19(37.3 X2=3.20;
%) %) df=1;p>0.05 Non
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

22(44.9 27(55.1
Female significant
%) %)
35(68.6 16(31.4
Male X2=1.56;
%) %)
Role conflict df=1;p>0.05 Non
39(79.6 10(20.4
Female significant
%) %)
43(84.3 8(15.7%
Male X2=0.38;
%) )
Work pressure df=1;p>0.05 Non
42(85.7 7(14.3%
Female significant
%) )
Male 5(9.8%) X2=1.52;
Domestic interruptions df=1;p>0.05 Non
46(81.6 9(18.4%
Female significant
%) )
14(27.5 36(72.5
Male X2=2.26;
%) %)
Library accessible df=1;p>0.05 Non
9 40(81.6
Female significant
(18.4%) %)
44(86.3 7(13.7%
Male X2=1.29;
%) )
Problems in study skills df=1;p>0.05 Non
38(77.6 11(22.4
Female significant
%) %)
44(86.3 7(13.7%
Male X2=0.13;
%) )
Exam preparation df=1;p>0.05 Non
41(83.7 8(16.3%
Female significant
%) )
16(31.4 35(68.6
Male X2=0.09;
Out of school for more %) %)
df=1;p>0.05 Non
than 10 years 14(28.6 35(71.4
Female significant
%) %)
40(78.4 11(21.6
Male X2=6.15;
%) %)
Facilitator incompetence df=1;p<0.05
27(55.1 22(44.9
Female significant
%) %)
6 45(88.2
Male X2=0.01;
Knowing programme (11.8%) %)
df=1;p>0.05 Non
counsellor 6 43(87.8
Female significant
(12.2%) %)
1 50(98.0
Male X2=0.39;
Have easy accessibility (2.0%) %)
df=1;p>0.05 Non
to counsellor 2 47(95.9
Female significant
(4.1%) %)
19(37.3 32(62.7
Male X2=0.003;
%) %)
Easy access to facilitator df=1;p>0.05 Non
18(36.7 31(63.3
Female significant
%) %)
29(56.9 22(43.1
Male X2=9.44;
Illness by close %) %)
relative/spouse 13(26.5 36(73.5
Female significant
%) %)
8 43(84.3
Male X2=2.34;
Assignments marked (15.7%) %)
df=1;p>0.05 Non
and returned on time 3 46(93.9
Female significant
(6.1%) %)
16(31.4 35(68.6
Male X2=0.29;
%) %)
Marking fair df=1;p>0.05 Non
13(26.5 36(73.5
Female significant
%) %)
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

10(19.6 41(80.4
Male X2=0.01;
%) %)
Leisure time df=1;p>0.05 Non
6 43(87.8
Female significant
(12.2%) %)
43(84.3 8(15.7%
Male X2=0.01;
%) )
Was orientation useful df=1;p>0.05 Non
41(83.7 8(16.3%
Female significant
%) )
Male 4(7.8%) X2=0.003; df=1
Have financial problems p>0.05 Non
Female 4(8.2%) significant
21(41.2 30(58.8
Male Accommodation
%) %) X2=13.67; df=1;
problems during face to
38(77.6 11(22.4 p<0.05 significant
Female face
%) %)
26(52.0 24(48.0
Male X2=0.86; df=1;
%) %)
Death in the family p>0.05 Non
30(61.2 19(38.8
Female significant
%) %)
However, the Chi-square statistics in table 1 also show that there were significant
differences between male and female students concerning shortage of resources,
incompetency of facilitators, relatives falling ill and shortage of accommodation
during face-to-face sessions. More female students said there were no resources,
facilitators were incompetent and that accommodation was a problem for face-to-face
sessions then male students. Also more male students indicated that they were being
affected by the illness of their close relatives/spouses than female students.
Table 2 shows that there were no significant differences in perceptions of students
grouped according to study centre concerning shortage of time and other resources,
role conflict, work pressure, inaccessibility of library, examination preparation,
accessibility of counsellors and facilitators, unfair marking, slow assignments
feedback, financial challenges and death in the family. On the basis of these results,
the hypothesis that there are no significant differences in the challenges faced by
students from the 3 different centres cannot be rejected.
Table 2: Students’ response to Yes/No items by centre (N=100)
Variable Response Chi-square test
Centre Yes No statistic
3(5.0% 38(95.
) 0%)
X²=0.82; df=2;
Christ the 3(10.0 27(90.
Enough time p>0.05
king %) 9%)
Non significant
3(10.0 27(90.
%) 9%)
12(30. 28(70.
0%) 0%)
X²=4.12; df=2:
Christ the 6(20.0 24(80.
Enough resources p>0.05
king %) 0%)
Non significant
3(10.0 27(90.
%) 0%)
18(45. 22(55.
0%) 0%)
X²=2.44; df=2:
Christ the 19(63. 11(36.
Colleagues near by p>0.05
king 3%) 7%)
Non significant
17(56. 13(43.
7%) 3%)
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

32(80. 8(20.0
0%) %)
X²=1.59: df=2;
Christ the 20(66. 10(33.
Role conflict p>0.05
king 7%) 3%)
22(73. 8(26.7
3%) %)
37(92. 3(7.5%
5%) )
X²=2.94; df=2;
Christ the 24(80. 6(20.0
Work pressure p>0.05
king 0%) %)
Non significant
24(80. 6(20.0
0%) %)
35(87. 5(12.5
5%) %)
X²=6.91; df=2;
Christ the 22(73. 8(26.7
Domestic interruptions p<0.05
king 3%) %)
29(96. 1(3.3%
7%) )
7(17.5 33(82.
%) 5%)
X²=1.14; df=2;
Christ the 8(26.7 22(73.
Library accessible p>0.05
king %) 3%)
Non significant
8(26.7 22(73.
%) 3%)
34(85 6(15.0
%) %)
X²=7.634; df=2;
Christ the 20(66. 10(33.
Problems in study skills p>0.05
king 7%) 3%)
28(93. 2(6.7%
3%) )
34(85 6(15.0
%) %) X²=1.18; df=2;
Christ the 24(80 6(20.0 p>0.05
Exam preparation
king %) %) Non significant
Lodonga 3(10%)
14(35. 26(65.
0%) 0%)
X²=2.06; df=2;
Christ the Out of school for more 10(33. 20(66.
king than 10 years 3%) 7%)
Non significant
6(20.0 24(80.
%) 0%)
22(55. 18(45.
5%) 0%)
X²=5.02; df=2;
Christ the Facilitator 21(70. 9(30.0
king incompetence 0%) %)
Non significant
24(80. 6(20.0
0%) %)
5(12.5 35(87.
%) 5)
X²=0.21; df=2;
Christ the Knowing programme 2(6.7% 28(93.
king counsellors ) 3%)
Non significant
5(16.7 25(83.
%) 3%)
Have easy accessibility 0(0.0% 40(100 X²=1.44; df=2;
to counsellors ) %) p>0.05
Christ the 2(6.7% 28(93. Non significant
king ) 3%)
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

1(3.3% 25(83.
) 3%)
14(35. 26(65.
0%) 0%)
X²=3.62; df=2:
Christ the Easy access to 15(50. 15(50.
king facilitator 0%) 0%)
Non significant
8(26.7 22(73.
%) 3%)
6(15.0 26(65.
%) 0%)
X²=3.62; df=2:
Christ the Illness by close 19(63. 11(36.
king relative/spouse 3%) 7%)
17(56. 13(43.
7%) 3%)
1(2.5% 39(97.
) 5%)
X²=5.60; df=2;
Christ the Assignment marked and 4(13.3 26(86.
king returned on time %) 7%)
Non significant
6(20.0 24(80.
%) 0%)
13(32. 27(67.
5%) 5%)
X²=1.69; df=2;
Christ the 6(20.0 24(80.
Making fair p>0.05
king %) 0%)
Non significant
10(33. 20(66.
3%) 7%)
5(12.5 35(87.
%) 5%)
X²=123; df=2;
Christ the 4(13.3 26(86.
Leisure time p>0.05
king %) 7%)
Non significant
7(23.3 23(76.
%) 7%)
33(82. 7(17.5
5%) %)
X²=1.23; df=2;
Christ the 24(80. 6(20.0
Was orientation useful? p>0.05
king 0%) %)
Non significant
27(90 3(10.0
%) %)
37(92. 3(7.5%
5%) )
X²=0.25; df=2;
Christ the 28(93. 2(6.7%
Have financial problems p>0.05
king 3%) )
Non significant
27(90. 3(10.0
0%) %)
24(60. 16(40.
0%) 0%)
Accommodation X²=8.36; df=2;
Christ the 23(76. 7(23.3
problems during face- p>0.05
king 7%) %)
to-face Significant
12(40. 18(60.
0%) 0%)
22(55. 18(45.
0%) 0%)
X²=0.21; df=2;
Christ the 18(60. 12(40.
Death in the family p>0.05
king 0%) 0%)
Non significant
16(55. 1344.8
2) %)
The Chi-square statistics in table 2 also show that students from the 3 centres
significantly differed on how they were affected by the following challenges; domestic
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

interruptions, study skills, relatives falling ill and shortage of accommodation for face
to face sessions. More students from Christ the King centre revealed that they were
not affected by domestic interruptions and study skills issues than those from other
centres. The majority of students from Kibuli centre indicated that they were not
affected by the illness of close relative/spouse than students from other centres. The
majority of the students from Lodonga centre indicated that accommodation for face-
to-face was not a challenge for them than students from other centres.
The study revealed that Diploma in Education Primary External (DEPE) learners
encountered a number of challenges such as lack of time, lack of resources, study
skills and exam preparation, domestic interruptions, unfair marking, inaccessibility of
counsellors and facilitators, delay in feedback, financial problems and death in the
family. This finding on challenges faced by distance learners is consistent with
international literature (Chireshe and Peresuh in press; Bhurati; 2004; Jegede &
Kirkwood, 1994, Mclntosh, 1974: Molefi, 1998; Perraton, 1993: Rowntree, 1992:
Dass, 2001). The finding on counsellor inaccessibility reflects Mapfumo’s (1995b)
conclusion that distance learners do not receive much attention in terms of guidance
and counselling.
The study also revealed that learner perceptions concerning challenges encountered
were not influenced by gender and study centre. However, the study revealed that
female students were affected more by shortage of resources, facilitator competency
and accommodation problems during face-to-face sessions than male students. More
female students could have reported facing accommodation challenges because
women are naturally particular about where they sleep unlike men and could have
disliked the available accommodation which is normally used by student teachers.
The study also further revealed that more male learners were affected by illness of
relatives/spouse than their female counterparts. This could be a result of traditional
structures that puts responsibility for families on men who, accordingly, are the first to
receive information about family problems, including illnesses affecting extended
family and relatives.
However, centre-wise results revealed that more students from Christ the King centre
were affected more by challenges to do with domestic interruption and study skills
than learners from the other two centres. Christ the King centre in Gulu is essentially
an Internally Displaced Camp (IDC), where there are rough living conditions. These
conditions may be a source of domestic problem and may not be conducive to the
development of good study skills among learners.
On the other hand, a majority of learners from Kibuli centre were less affected by
illness of relatives/spouses. This could be due to the fact that Kibuli is predominantly
a peri-urban centre. Most learners under Kibuli centre live in and around Kampala
city where living conditions are far much better than those in small towns or rural
areas. A majority of learners from Lodonga centre, meanwhile, reported that
accommodation was not a problem for them. This could be attributed to the fact that
the 2006/2007 enrolment for the centre was much less than the expected 250
learners. The low enrolment had created more accommodation space in the centre
for learners.
Finally, a finding that learners faced challenges like late delivery of modules, late
release of results, and unpreparedness of some facilitators may be related to Purvis’
(1979) idea that distance learners normally receive a raw deal from part-time tutors.
This is mainly a result of the part-time nature of the job of distance education tutors.
Conclusion and recommendations
This study shows that there were a number of challenges faced by Diploma in
Education Primary External (DEPE) learners in Kyambogo University, which may
interfere with their studies. Accordingly, the following recommendations are made on
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

the basis of the findings of this study.

1. DEPE should come up with a strong support to help in adaptive response that
would assist students in issues like time management study skills, exam
preparations, managing role conflict, balancing studies and family issues. DEPE
can have learner support services unit/section looking after these issues. During
face-to-face sessions each centre should have at least one counsellor for
guidance and counselling to address students’ issues.
2. Competent facilitators should be engaged. This might help overcome the
problems of delayed feedback and fairness of marking assignments. These
facilitators should be continuously in-serviced on distance education delivery
mode to enhance their competencies thus, ensuring provision of quality support
to students.
3. Modules should be delivered well in advance for the learners to access.
4. Results should be released on time as this will act as a motivation for students.

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Kinyanjui, P. (1998). Distance Education and Open Learning in Africa: What works or
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Male…………… Female………Centre……………..
Show your response by a tick
Item Brief description of Item Yes No
1 Do you have enough time for your studies?
2 Are there enough resources for your studies?
Do you have colleagues nearby to consult when you encounter
problems in your studies?
Are you experiencing role conflict as a result of being a
Are you studies negatively affected by work pressures and
Are there any domestic interruptions and demands interfering with
your studies?
7 Is the library easily accessible to you?
8 Have you encountered problems in study skills?
9 Have you encountered problems in exam preparation?
10 Have you been out of formal school for more than 10 years now?
11 Are your tutors/facilitators competent?
12 Do you know your programme counsellor?
13 Do you have easy access to your tutors/ facilitator?
14 Has your close relative/spouse been ill for some time now?
15 Are your assignments marked and returned to your on time?
16 Is the marking for assignments fair?
17 Do your studies leave you with leisure time?
18 Was your fist orientation/induction into DEPE very useful?
19 Do you have financial problems that pertain to your studies?
20 Is accommodation for face to face sessions a problem for you?
21 Did you have death in the family during the past year?
R. Chireshe & A. Otto

List any other problems not given above

Thank you for taking part in this study
M. Mofana-Semoko

Engaging Action Research in Post-Literacy (PL) Materials’ Development:

The Case of the National University of Lesotho-Institute of Extra-Mural
M. Mofana-Semoko
Institute of Extra-Mural Studies, National University of Lesotho

This paper reports the findings of an action research investigation of the
development of post-literacy (PL) materials by learners of an adult
education degree programme of the National University of Lesotho’s
Institute of Extra-Mural Studies (NUL-IEMS). The PL materials were also
used to gain insight into workplace problems of organizations represented
by learners. Finally, a review of literature on action research as a form of
collective, self-reflective inquiry that participants in social situations
undertake to improve practices provided a framework for this study.
Two question guides were used to collect information on learners’ levels
of PL materials writing skills and their awareness of the writing process.
Focus group discussions were also used to explore learners’ feelings and
knowledge of the writing process. The results show that learners did not
have relevant PL materials writing skills, but had skills related to
community development, problem solving, extension work, health issues
and community level conflict resolution. Several problems experienced by
learners in the writing of PL materials are also reported.
Over a seven-year period, commencing 2001/02 academic year, PL
materials from learners were collected almost consistently in each four
month semester. The materials were designed to address workplace and
community level problems, including management issues, community
development, vocational education, technological, health, legal, civic,
environmental, agricultural and entrepreneurship issues. The study
concludes that learners were generally happy with their PL materials.
One of the programmes offered by IEMS, an institute of the National University of
Lesotho, is a degree in adult education. Two literacy courses on the adult education
degree programme, Adult Literacy Teaching Methods and Media Techniques in
Community Education, provide the subject and focus of this investigation. These two
courses require learners to develop post-literacy (PL) materials that could be used in
their work situations. Accordingly, this study investigates the issues of literacy
concern within the organizations that learners work for and how these concerns could
be addressed by the PL materials developed by learners on the two courses.
The overall aim of the study was to improve IEMS provision of literacy courses
through the use of action research methodology using adult learners in the Year I
and Year III of the adult education degree programme. The paper begins by
providing a context of the study by briefly outlining the literacy context of Lesotho.
The paper then outlines the concept of action research and its relevance for this
study. It then moves on to describing the action research process at IEMS.
Literacy context of Lesotho
In 2001 Lesotho’s adult literacy rate was 73.7% for males and 90.3% for females
(Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, 2004). The overall functional literacy
rate was 57% in 1997, that is, those who are able to use their reading and writing
skills profitably (Ministry of Education and Training, 2000). However, the literacy
levels of these people who achieve literacy through school or adult education often
M. Mofana-Semoko

deteriorates because they do not use them frequently. Therefore there is urgent need
to find ways to develop post literacy (PL) skills at varying levels for these people.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is committed to the
provision of alternative educational opportunities to people who did not have access
to formal education. It is committed to the 1990 Dakar Declaration of education for all
(EFA). It is doing this through the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC) and the
Non-Formal Education (NFE) Inspectorate department. These departments work in
collaboration with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other providers of
non-formal education programmes such as the National University of Lesotho’s
Institute of Extra Mural Studies (NUL-IEMS), to provide literacy to out-of-school
youth, herd boys and adults.
What is action research?
This study uses action research, defined variously by different authors. For example,
Dick (2002) views it as a flexible spiral process which allows action and research as
a natural way of acting and researching at the same time; an iterative process of
acting-reviewing-acting-reviewing. According to Altrichter, Kemmis, Mctaggart and
Zuber-Skerritt (2002), action research is a form of collective, self-reflective inquiry
that participants in social situations undertake to improve practices. Tripp (2003), on
the other hand, sees it as an umbrella term for the deliberate use of any kind of a
plan-act-describe-review cycle for inquiry into action in a field of practice.

Meanwhile, Mcniff and Whitehead (2006) define action research as an inquiry

conducted by practitioners to investigate and evaluate their work. Altrichter et al
(2002), also see it as an enquiry with people rather than on people. The NUL-IEMS
study therefore fits into this concept of action research, since it was an ongoing
review and teaching enquiry with the learners.
The NUL-IEMS action research study
The IEMS action research is an activity which is done with learners who are actually
getting and putting together information into organized content for materials
production, with the help of the facilitator who is also the researcher. Both facilitator
and learners are involved in action, researching and learning in the two courses.
The aim of the two courses is to enhance the existing PL materials stock in both the
department and the IEMS library, since materials currently used on this programme
are outdated and give obsolete examples of projects or programmes which have long
been closed or phased out. Also the library at the IEMS is very small and has few
books or reference materials. The idea to produce PL materials that are community
development oriented was informed by a desire to generate case studies so that
IEMS learners could experience real life work situations. These materials would also
be helpful to organizations from which learners are drawn. The benefits of these
M. Mofana-Semoko

materials to the institute, learners, and the learners’ organizations is consistent with
Dick’s (2002) suggestion that action research outcomes should benefit the institution
and community that is engaged in the process. The aim of action research, according
to Altrichter et al (2002) and Zuber-Skerrit and Perry (2002), is to improve practical
situation and to solve a practical problem. Accordingly, learners in this study address
real workplace problems at organisation or community level by presenting content
that provide solutions to perceived work-related problems.
Who are the participants in NUL-IEMS action research?
The action research is led by a full-time Institute employee, who is the facilitator for
two groups of learners on the two courses on the adult education degree programme
in the Department of Adult Education. The learners, on the other hand, are full-time
employees of community-based organizations, Non-Governmental Organisations
(NGOs), governmental agencies and other grassroots associations. Thus, the fact
that the researcher and learners are full-time employees resonates with Zuber-Skerrit
(2002), Zuber-Skerrit and Perry (2002), Altrichter et al (2002) and Dick (2002).
In 2006/07 academic year this action research also involved two colleagues from the
Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC), a centre famous for the production of
post-literacy materials in Lesotho. These colleagues gave invaluable advice on PL
materials production using their experience in distance learning materials production
at LDTC. Meanwhile, in the 2007/08 academic year, tutors from regional campuses
participated with learners in writing PL materials. The orientation sessions organized
by the Department for these tutors helped them appreciate the complexities and skills
required in the development of PL materials.
The role of the researcher in the investigation
The main role of the researcher, as facilitator, is to guide the process of writing PL
materials from the beginning to the end. The researcher plans the activity with
learners and monitors the writing process up to the stage where learners submit final
copies. This dual role of the facilitator is referred to by McMillan and Schumacher
(2001) as participant-researcher. The Zuber-Skerrit and Perry (2002) description of a
participant-researcher as a full-time employee or part-time PhD student is consistent
with the context of the current action research where the lead researcher or facilitator
was also working towards acquiring a higher education qualification.
The role of the participant-researcher in the current study was, as suggested by
Fouche (2002), to study participants, empower them, and create awareness among
them. More specifically, the researcher was working and learning with learners and
empowered them on both the importance and process of developing PL materials.
According to Chilisa and Preece (2005), the researcher became the main data-
gathering instrument as she interacted with participants.
How was the action research done?
The IEMS action research started in 2001/02 academic year and comprised the
process of planning with each new group of learners and all third year level learners
since 2001/02. Usually one group of learners comes during the first semester, while
the other group comes during the second semester. The learners were taught and
led through the process of how to produce PL materials for their target audience,
while the researcher acted as the editor of those materials. Therefore, this action
research methodology developed both the researcher and the learners in accordance
with Zuber-Skerrit and Perry (2002) and Zuber-Skerrit (2002) who maintain that in
action research both the facilitator and learners learn to improve practice in their
Since learners were engaged in the first or second semester, the development of PL
materials lasted a semester or four months. Typically, each group came to the IEMS
for a residential week of studies at the beginning of the semester where they were
initially introduced to planning of production of PL materials. Thereafter, meetings
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were held with learners every first weekend of the month to continue with the process
of materials development and production. Meanwhile, learner initiated consultancy
meetings would be held during week days to assist learners throughout the semester
until production of PL materials was completed. This pattern of the process of action
research is not unique to NUL-IMES. Zuber-Skerrit and Perry (2002) described this
as ‘work-based education’, which involves being away from work for a short time for
the purpose of studying to acquire skills to improve work practice.
The process of materials’ development at IEMS
The development of learner-generated materials at the Institute started in 2001/02
academic year and continued through the current academic year, 2007/08. These
materials are completed within four months of a semester in a given academic year.
The process begins with learners being exposed to PL materials of previous years so
that they have some idea of what they are expected to produce. However, although
there were no PL materials produced by learners for the first academic year 2001/02,
the researcher managed to collect a few brochures from different organizations to
show samples of PL materials. The display helped learners focus on implementing
plans for a semester.
Year I learners produced materials on individual basis. They made their own choices
of topics they would like to address. Learners came up with topics of their choice and
were expected to produce PL materials for their target audience. The learners chose
topical issues, including issues perceived as problematic for their workplaces and for
which they designed reading materials that became sources of information or advice
and guidance to colleagues at the workplaces.
When the learners had decided on their topics, they were asked to write a short
introduction to explain the problem the material was addressing. Then each stated
the general aim for the production of the materials and formulated appropriate
learning objectives, which clearly show what the target audience was going to able to
do after reading the materials. All learners made class presentations of the objectives
and the group was assisted to achieve the same understanding on how to formulate
objectives. Each objective was used to develop content headings so that the number
of objectives determined the amount of content to be covered. Only learners who
successfully completed this stage were allowed to proceed to next stage where they
would develop an outline of the PL materials. Thereafter, learners commenced
materials writing process with the assistance of the participant-researcher or
facilitator who edited the first, second and even the third draft.
The process followed with Year III learners, on the other hand, was a little different
from that for Year I learners. Year III learners produced PL materials in groups and
not individually, and were awarded group marks. Each group agreed on a topic and
target audience and, together, developed aims, objectives and content. The groups
decided on the types of media to produce and use, since their course trains them to
use such media for community development. On completion of these materials,
groups made class presentations, received feedback and used it to produce the final
copies for submission to the Department. PL materials for Year III included overhead
projector slides, posters, handouts (e.g. leaflets, pamphlets, booklets or magazines),
radio cassettes and video cassettes.
In accordance with the respective concepts of critical reflections from previous action
and transferred experiences (Dick, 2002 & Zuber-Skerrit, 2002), observations made
with learners and experiences gained in the first semester were used in the second
semester, while experiences and problems from the previous academic year were
used in the following year. Thus, action for the current cycle is carried out with past
experiences in mind. The facilitator reflects with the learners and starts a new cycle
of production of materials, drawing on experiences from the past. The learners own
the research results, that is, the materials they produced. They became excited with
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their products, which belonged to their organizations. Altrichter et al (2002) regard

this as ‘ownership of data’, Zuber-Skerrit (2002) as ‘tangible results’ or ‘outcomes’
and Dick (2002) as ‘practical outcomes’.
The Methods used for this Study
Data collection
The study mainly followed a qualitative research design, which generates a lot of
information from various data collection methods and allows for triangulation of data.
This includes detailed descriptions of what was observed, voices of participants, the
researcher’s reflections, pictures and photographs (Chilisa and Preece, 2005).
The study was guided by the review of relevant action research literature. Information
was collected using two question guides to assess learners’ levels of understanding
of how to conduct the writing process and to obtain their evaluation of the materials
writing process. Finished PL materials reflected problems experienced by learners’
organizations that were addressed by learner-generated materials. Also focus group
discussions with learners elaborated on their feelings, understandings, and problems
related to materials writing process. Finally, informal observations enhanced
understanding of how learners engaged with the writing process for each semester.
Data analysis
Data was collected during and at end of semester because, according to McMillan
and Schumacher (2001), tentative data analysis begins as the researcher mentally
processes many ideas and facts while collecting data and supported by de Vos,
Strydom, Fouche and Delport (2002) who say that qualitative inquiry involves data
analysis at the site during data collection. In qualitative research, therefore, analysis
begins from the time the researcher enters the field and continues throughout the
study (Chilisa and Preece, 2005). The idea of compiling and analyzing the interviews
while they are still fresh is promoted also by McMillan and Schumacher (2001), since
this can raise the credibility of the research by giving a summary of the results to the
participants for approval.
Data collection and analysis in qualitative research has no specified fixed method.
According to McMillan and Schumacher (1997), qualitative phases of data collection
and analysis are interactive research processes that occur in overlapping cycles,
while de Vos, Strydom, Fouche and Delport (2002) assert that there are no rigid step-
by-step procedures to follow for data collection and analysis because both are tightly
interwoven processes that must occur alternately.
Meanwhile, data collected with the question guide at the beginning of the semester,
to assess the level of learner understanding of the development of PL materials was
compiled and organized into a summary of points which indicate the skills and
knowledge learners had regarding materials development. The information regarding
their skills and knowledge level was compiled and the main points were listed. The
problems experienced by organizations represented by the learners, as reflected in
the PL materials were bulleted under categories of themes, which reduced data into
small manageable set of themes (de Vos et al, 2002).
Data from the second question guide used at the end of the semester revealed their
evaluation of the writing process. A list of the points from the use of this tool was
summarized. Also information collected through the use of focus groups was
compiled and summarized as a list of key points on their feelings and understanding
of the exercise. Focus groups discussion data collected at the end of a semester was
compiled and summarised according to learners’ likes and dislikes of the activity.
Finally, the researcher’s journal notes, which made up her observations were also
organized into a list of main points observed throughout the writing process.
Summary of the Results
The results presented hereunder reflect five thematic categories. The first category is
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on base-level of skills and knowledge of learners at the commencement of the writing

activity. The second category is on the problems addressed by the materials over a
three year academic period. The third category is on themes of different types of
media developed by Year III learners. The fourth category on learners’ feelings
contained what they liked and disliked about the activity and, finally, the last category
captured the facilitator’s observations of the writing process.
Base-level of skills and knowledge of learners
Although learners knew the importance of developing PL materials, 90% did not have
materials writing skills, including learners from organizations were developing and
using PL materials for their clientele. However, learners demonstrated other skills in
relation to:
• community education
• problem solving
• extension work
• health science and
• dealing with conflicts at community level.
The learners had knowledge of different types of PL materials and reported using
them in their workplaces. Those that they used included the following:
• Charts used to interpret HIV/AIDS statistics
• Pamphlets
• Brochures
• Mining magazines
• Handouts
• Flipcharts
Problems addressed by PL materials
The problems that were perceived critical and had to be addressed by PL materials
came from three campuses namely Maseru, Mahobong and Mohale’s Hoek.
Learners in Maseru campus started writing PL materials in 2001/02 academic year,
while the process commenced in 2007/08 in the other campuses. The findings of this
study are, therefore, illustrative of the range of problems and PL materials developed
for various target groups by learners from different organizations and institutions.
Problems addressed by 2005-2006 PL materials written in Maseru campus
Thematically presented below are examples of the problems addressed by different
PL materials during community education training activities of different institutions
reflecting their varied organisational vocations. The PL materials are used as
educational interventions for teaching target audiences how to go about solving
problems in their daily personal and business initiatives or activities. A summary of
the themes covered in PL materials by Maseru campus learners is presented
Business entrepreneurship
• Basotho entrepreneurs lack sufficient resources in their businesses and
therefore fail to comply with legal aspects concerning their businesses. As a
result, they are unable to meet the demand of the people they serve.
• Tax payers do not understand their legal obligations regarding income tax
and find it difficult to comply. Many end up paying heavy penalties or facing
legal action.
• Business owners used to come in great numbers to advertise their goods and
services. Lately the number has declined
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• Rapid growth of bed and breakfast hospitality in Lesotho has led to calls for
the formation of an association that would enable members to run their
businesses in a more efficient and profitable manner.
Community development
• Most Basotho houses are built by unskilled people who are not familiar with
modern ways of maximizing the use of solar energy to improve the comfort of
those houses by making them warm in winter and cool in summer
• Lesotho is experiencing tremendous soil erosion as a result of overgrazing of
pastures, burning rangeland and deforestations habitually carried out by herd
• It is high time we stopped discrimination and created awareness among herd
boys and make them realize their worth and develop the skills they already
have through formation of working groups.
• Inheritance on arable land has been the major source of land administration
Health issues
• People living with HIV seem to think that being HIV positive confirms their
disability and therefore cannot fend for themselves, thus the government
should assist them in one way or another
• Proper nutrition plays a vital role in assisting AIDS patients to recover quickly
through boosting immune system.
• Basotho produce large quantities of fruits and vegetables but use very
primitive and unhygienic preservation methods, often using open surfaces
where there is a lot of dust and flies.
• There is a high rate of consumption of expired canned foodstuff, over-
refrigerated foodstuff and stale food due to poor storage management. This
has become a major source of food poisoning related illnesses, especially
among members of the Lesotho Defence Force.
Problems addressed by 2006-2007 PL materials written in Maseru campus:
The examples of problems addressed by Maseru campus learners during the
2006/07 academic year increased compared to those for the preceding year. This
might reflect an increase in the number of organizations represented by learners,
leading to a corresponding increase in the number of issues to be addressed in these
organisations. In addition to the themes addressed the previous year, new issues of
environmental development and management services featured in 2006/07.
Health issues
• During the rainy season water collected from uncovered wells, dams, and
rivers is contaminated and causes illnesses and should be purified.
• HIV/AIDS and pregnancy
• Reduced number of years of breastfeeding babies by their mothers is
becoming a concern.
Environmental development
• One of the major challenges that face Lesotho is loss of biodiversity
• People lack understanding of the importance of natural resources
conservation and the role and significance of natural resources in tourism.
Community development
• People should be encouraged to undertake self-help projects like vegetable
production in their gardens to combat high rate of poverty at Leqele
community caused by mining retrenchments.
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• Encouraging Basotho to do Block-Farming, to increase productivity and

maintain farming as the backbone of the country
Business entrepreneurship
• Lesotho’s water is still much untapped and the water bottling market remains
unsaturated as there are only two operating water bottling companies
currently in Lesotho
• After the death of parents the level of economy in a family declines and
orphans need to learn skills on income generating activities.
Management Services
• Many post offices in Lesotho are managed by junior officers and some
officers at Maseru Post Office Headquarters are not rightly placed.
• The high rate of fraud at Lesotho Post Bank
Problems addressed by 2007-2008 PL materials written in the three campuses
of Maseru, Mohales’ Hoek and Mahobong:
For the 2007/08 academic year, the degree programme had extended to the two
regional campuses of Mohales’ Hoek and Mahobong so that writing of PL materials
went on in all three campuses. The examples of problems addressed by the PL
materials written in the three campuses are presented according to campus.
Problems addressed by 2007/08 PL materials from Maseru campus:
The themes addressed are the same as those addressed in the previous year, and
this says the literacy programmes or institutions and non-governmental organisations
take a long time before helping the communities to solve their daily problems.
However, two new themes are included for this year that is civic education and legal
• The youth, faced with challenges arising from poverty and the HIV/AIDS
pandemic, now resort to unhealthy lifestyles such as drug abuse, alcoholism,
violence and prostitution.
• Students of the main campus of the National University of Lesotho encounter
problems of alcohol and substance abuse, poverty, socio-economic and
political problems, peer pressure, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections
and rapes that lead girls to unexpected pregnancies.
• The HIV/AIDS patients in Mafeteng Hospital fail to recover after pregnancy.
• A lot of children of HIV/AIDS mothers become infected with HIV and develop
AIDS and die within the first two years of life.
Community development
• Herd boys destroy community projects by engaging in wanton behaviour,
such as breaking community water pipes and bricks and some of the
equipment meant to be used for water projects.
• Herd boys destroy road signs because they do not know what they are about.
They also destroy water pumps, burn grass and climb electric poles, not
knowing that they are dangerous. Herd boys do not know the importance of
tourism and, as a result, harass the tourists.
• Since the establishment of the Lithabaneng Community-Based Programme,
there is no understanding among stakeholders (working orphans), including
guardians, Lithabaneng community members, and the chief, as to how the
organization operates and what documents are required so that vulnerable
children can get help from the organization. This results in lack of cooperation
between stakeholders.
• Crop production has decreased in Lesotho due to weather changes lately,
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such as a lot of hail, drought, frostbite and heavy rains - hence need for
cooperative farming.
Business entrepreneurship
• Inappropriate collection of government revenue by revenue collectors in
different government ministries.
• The problem of pyramid schemes or associations that work in the country yet
they are not legally registered, but are able to attract a huge number of
people to invest their money with them.
Management services
• Teachers of the combined government-community Takalatsa Primary and
Secondary schools seem to encounter problems that prevent them from
discharging their duties in their workplaces effectively.
• The School’s Management Committees do not know which forms they should
use in charging teachers.
• The mother tongue language should be used to facilitate the basic literacy
programmes. Lesotho has more than three mother tongue languages but only
one language is used for teaching and learning. The Lesotho Education
Policy excluded other languages.
Civic education
• Although herd boys have a right to vote, in most cases they do not know that
they have to register in order to vote during national general elections. They
spent most of their time in the cattle posts and do not participate in general
elections. They should be educated on the importance of registering and
participating in general elections.
• Many Basotho do not know that it is their right to have a passport and do not
know the requirements for getting a passport. They are often sent back after
waiting in the queue for long hours without getting help.
• A number of people do not know the importance of registering births and
deaths. They do not bother or register very late, thereby hindering the
National Planning process because of unavailability of accurate statistics.
Legal issues
• People generally do not like crime because it negatively impacts on their
individual and collective development.
• Men are abused at home by wives and children and also at the workplace,
but are shy to report cases when they occur.
• Usually the orphans are cheated by relatives who enrich themselves on
properties that should belong to orphans after the death of their parents.
Problems addressed by 2007/08 PL materials from Mahobong campus:
Out of 14 Year I learners at the Mahobong campus, 9 completed and submitted their
materials, while the remaining 5 submitted incomplete materials. Since this group of
learners was doing it for the first time and there no PL materials from the previous
years for use as reference materials. In addition, the learners also wrote the
materials without the benefit of the course facilitator. However, although the
substance of their materials differed with those of learners from the other centres, the
themes addressed in Mahobong were generally the same as those of Maseru,
suggesting that learners might have been from different districts but coming from the
same organizations.
Civic issues
• Violence in the families, including violence against women and children
• Improper allocation and use of land in Lesotho
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Health issues
• There is need for communities to contribute money towards maintenance of
water pumps since lack of maintenance of water pumps in rural areas cause
people to use unclean water.
• Women in Lesotho are no longer interested in becoming pregnant because of
myths and misconception about HIV/AIDS; hence, there is need to educate
and support women on HIV/AIDS and pregnancy.
• Some expectant women do not attend antenatal clinics and decide to deliver
at home because they do not want their HIV/AIDS status to be known.
Environmental issues
• Destruction of forest trees
Legal issues
• Punishment alone by criminal justice does very little to heal the wounds of
crime victims; hence, there is need for communities to be encouraged through
chiefs to establish restorative justice committees.
Civic education
• Majority of voters are not aware of the ongoing process of updating of voters
lists in preparation of national general elections
Problems addressed by 2007/08 PL materials from Mohales’ Hoek campus:
Out of 26 Year I learners in Mohales’ Hoek campus, only 15 submitted completed
materials while 8 submitted incomplete ones and the rest did not submit at all. They
were also doing it for the first time. Examples of such materials are given below:
Education issues
• Adult Education – What is it all about? Many people want to know what adult
education entails.
Legal issues
• Report violence and sexual abuse
Community development
• Rural areas are experiencing increased levels of poverty; hence poverty
reduction strategies through homestead gardening should be promoted.
• Need for planting vegetables in the garden: Doing Conservation Farming
Management issues
• The national education policy fails to include other tribal languages spoken in
the country
• Problems of lack of resources and facilities facing teachers and children in
schools in the rural areas.
Issues addressed by media developed by third year learners
Since 2001/02 academic year third year learners of the degree programme have
been developing five types of media per academic year, including overhead projector
transparencies, posters, handouts, audio cassettes or CD (only in the past two years)
and video materials. These different types of media covered the following themes:
• Health education
• Environmental development
• Community development
• Agricultural issues, including animal husbandry and farming methods
• Business entrepreneurship
• Vocational education or skills
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• Social issues
• Legal issues
• Civic education and democracy
• Technological skills: use of automatic vending machine
• Commodity production e.g. Vaseline, building stones, leather products and
some crafts.
Learners’ feelings and understanding of the activity
Learners had some opinions about the development process of PL materials. Their
likes and dislikes of the writing process are presented below in bullet form:
What learners liked about the activity
• Opportunity to question the services provided by their organizations
• Liberty to choice a topic of their choice
• Learners were happy to have developed PL materials and have something to
show as a product.
• Challenging creativity through problem solving
• Useful material
• A chance to educate people and information giving
• The idea of thinking and coming up with the problem
• Being creative in identifying the problem that exists and also to apply
measures to be taken to overcome the problem
• Ability to disseminate information to the readers
• Producing work-related product that would assist workplace supervisors to be
aware of the importance of adult education
• The activity introduced learners to writing pamphlets and other materials
• The materials address the most felt needs and problems of target groups
• The user-friendliness of materials
• Materials are written in a simple manner and learners can read on their own
• Prepares both the writer and the facilitator to be professional writers
• The exercise gave freedom to express feelings and knowledge on paper
• The information will last longer when in printed form than when it is said by
word of mouth.
What learners did not like about the activity
• It was difficult for one who did not have a skill of writing in this style
• Time consuming and expensive, especially because it had to be typed and
edited several times to come up with the correct and interesting materials.
• Difficult to consult the facilitator for those who lived far away.
• The illiterate will not benefit from the materials.
• Consulting the facilitator time and again.
• Takes time from other competing activities.
• Wanted to include everything and it made the material voluminous.
• Needs careful research to avoid wrong information being disseminated.
• The materials could not be accessed by the blind.
• Difficult to put into practice unaided explanations given by the facilitator.
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• Basotho have no reading culture.

• The material will experience the problem of distribution.
• The far away submission date may make others to forget about the exercise.
(As facilitator one would like to think that this means that the activity should
be given a limited time so that learners are forced to do it and finish with it on
Facilitator’s observations
The observations of the facilitator based on her journal notes on the performance of
learners throughout the process of writing are summarized hereunder:
• The whole exercise was generally difficult for groups doing it for the first time.
The most difficult part was formulating outcome-based learning objectives
and drawing up an outline for the materials.
• The writing process became easy for a number of them because they were
choosing an area of concern that interested them. They knew what they were
doing and found it motivating because the issues that were addressed
concerned their workplaces.
• Sometimes learners got frustrated when they failed to get help from the
facilitator who might have not been in her office for consultations.
• Some learners tried to cheat by taking materials developed by learners in the
previous years, but this was often quickly discovered.
• Some changed topics at the eleventh hour.
• At the beginning of a semester learners wanted to be provided with examples
of materials produced in the past.
• Some of the materials were done thoroughly and were perfect in terms of
clear objectives, content presentation and use of simple and good Sesotho or
English language.
• Learners were motivated by their products and felt proud of them.
• Lack of computer skill was a setback for some of them and were reluctant to
be sent back to incorporate comments after editing because it meant paying
hired typists.
• Learners helped one another, with those who had access to computers at
workplaces helping those who did not have access or lacked computer skills.
• Learners also got help from friends from other workplaces.
• Some of the learners were already getting positive feedback from colleagues
on their materials.
• Many learners submitted on time after materials were edited more than twice.
• Those who did not finish at the end of a semester came to ask for extension
and that was always granted.
• The delay to start the writing activity resulted in some learners having to rush
when they realized it was getting late. This brought them frustration as they
then realized that it was not so easy for them to do the exercise.
• A few learners put little effort and were forced to submit unedited materials.
When they joined the institute, adult learners usually did not have an idea that it was
important for them to develop some teaching materials themselves, neither did they
think they could do it. It was a far-fetched thing, as they did not have skills for such
an activity.
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Media-wise, Year I learners mainly developed leaflets, pamphlets and booklets, while
Year III learners developed the types of media prescribed in their course syllabus.
Most of the learners addressed work-related problems on management, community,
health, legal, civic, environmental, agricultural, and entrepreneurship issues. While
the themes addressed by the materials might have been the same, the contents were
invariably different. They addressed themes from different angles, indicating
differences in concerns of districts where learners were based. The materials were
meant for different target groups in all spheres of life.
Learners had likes and dislikes about the exercise, which reflected perceived
advantages and disadvantages. Learners found the materials to be very useful and
the experience acquired from the exercise was something they were proud of and
also proud of themselves for their accomplishments. However there were some
things they did not like about the exercise. Learners found that it distracted their
attention from other important activities, as they soon found that it was demanding
and took the whole semester.
The facilitator observed at the beginning that learners did not trust themselves due to
lack of skills in writing. As a result, learners needed examples of ready-made
materials from previous years. Others were excited about the activity from the
beginning and they took it as a critical and eye-opening intervention. However, the
exercise was eventually enjoyed by all the groups in different academic years as they
realized how important the activity was to their workplaces. They became proud of
their products and their capabilities.
The following recommendations were made on the basis of the data collected
through all the tools used:
• Learners felt their time was taken by the activity. There is a need to balance
the time allocated with the workload for learners on these two courses.
• In order for learners, particularly those in regional campuses, to produce good
PL materials, they need very strong support in this activity, especially that of
the facilitator. It is recommended that the facilitator should visit learners in
other campuses regarding this activity.
Altrichter, H, Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R. & Zuber-Skerrit, O. (2002). The Concept of
Action Research. The Learning Organisation. 9(3): 125-131.
Chilisa, B. & Preece, J. (2005). Research Methods for Adult Educators in Africa:
African Perspectives on Adult Learning. Cape Town and Hamburg: Pearson
Education, UNESCO Institute for Education.
de Vos, A.S., Strydom, H., Fouche, C.B. & Delport, C.S.L. (2002). Research at Grass
Roots: For the Social Sciences and Human Service Professionals. (2nd
Edition). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.
Dick, B. (2002). Postgraduate programmes: Using action research. The Learning
Organisation. 9(4): 159-170.
Fouche, C. B. (2002). Problem Development. In de Vos, A. S. et al, Research at
Grass Roots: For the Social Sciences and Human Service Professionals. (2nd
Edition), (pp. 267-273). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.
McMillan, J. H. & Schumacher, S. S. (1997). Research in Education: A Conceptual
Introduction. New York: Longman.
McMillan, J. H. & Schumacher, S. S. (2001). Introduction to Designing Qualitative
Research. New York and Montreal: Longman.
Mcniff, J. & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about Action Research. New
M. Mofana-Semoko

Delhi: Sage Publications.

Ministry of Education and Training. (2000). National Literacy Survey in Lesotho.
Maseru: Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre.
Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. (2004). Lesotho Population Data
Sheet. Maseru: MFDP.
Tripp, D. (2003). Action Inquiry, Action Research: e-Reports. Retrieved on 17
February 2006 from.
Zuber-Skerrit, O. (2002). A Model for Designing Action Learning and Action
Research Programmes. The Learning Organisation. 9(4): 143-149.
Zuber-Skerrit, O. & Perry, C. (2002). Action Research within Organisation and
University Thesis Writing. The Learning Organisation. 9(4): 171-179.
A. Olatoun Abiodun

A Survey of Students’ Perception on Distance Learning Support -

Implications for Qualitative Planning of Distance Education in Nigeria
A. Olatoun Abiodun
National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, Nigeria
This study examined the perception of open and distance learning
students on learning support required by them. This study was
necessitated by the present social demand for education, which has
culminated in sporadic expansion of distance learning centres in Nigeria
education sector. A random sampling of 300 students of National Open
University of Nigeria (NOUN) was used as the sample for this study. A
descriptive survey study was used; guided by four (4) research questions.
A questionnaire instrument titled “Distance Learning Support
Questionnaire (DLSQ)” was used for this study. Data collected was
subjected to both descriptive and inferential statistics namely;
percentages, mean, standard deviation and T-test. Findings revealed
students’ perception with respect to the twelve (12) items raised. The
results also showed that were no significant gender-wise differences in
the perceptions of learners towards distance learning support services,
while significant differences were reported between the perceptions of
rural and urban and old and young distance education learners. The
implication of this study for qualitative educational planning was likewise
stressed and this will go a long way in making the desires of many of the
recipients of this type of education realizable and achievable.
One of the major challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria is the issue of
access and participation. Various government policy papers have outlined a number of
strategies to address this imbalance. Distance education has been identified as a
system that could provide access to education for those people who did not have the
opportunity to study fulltime either because they lived in remote rural areas or because
they had fulltime jobs or one way or the other dropped out of school some years back.
Dodds’ (1991) definition of distance education as any form or organised educational
experiences in which teaching and learning take place with the teachers at a distance
from the learners most of the time shows the appropriateness of this system for remote
learners, those in fulltime employment or others unable to attend fulltime study for
various reasons. Another benefit of distance education is that it enables a limited
number of teachers to reach a very large number of students, thereby opening the way
to endless economies of scale and cost reduction (Rumble, 1992).
Meanwhile, Holmberg (1995) describes distance education as the planned separation
of the acts of teaching and learning in terms of time, place and pace. This view is
corroborated by Fagbamiye, (2000) who opines that de-concentration is more evident
in distance learning. Dual mode institutions are usually universities, which combine the
distance mode with the conventional face-to-face mode. Fagbamiye (2000) further
explains that the mode of distance education delivery ranges from the well-established
print medium to the newest forms of multi-mode approach, which is a combination of
face-to-face, print, audio video broadcast, teleconferencing etc), to impart knowledge
on learners.
Given the benefits of distance education, the recent sharp decline in enrolment of
learners for distance education in Nigeria might suggest the existence of fundamental
problems in the provision of distance education. This trend, if not addressed, would
undermine the purposes of establishing distance education centres in the Nigerian
education sector. Jaiyeoba (2000) reported that students’ enrolment rate for distance
education programmes dropped from 75% in the year 2006 to 55% in the year 2008.
A. Olatoun Abiodun

Lewis (1984) suggests the reasons for relatively high rate of dropout include learners
finding themselves in unfamiliar situations. In addition, many learners associate
learning with being taught by a teacher who is physically present, while others who
are unfamiliar with distance learning packages finding learning more difficult since
many of them lack capacity to learn this way.
In addition, many adult distance learners feel lonely and neglected. The feeling of
loneliness and neglect may emanate from an apparent lack of academic support (e.g.
face-to-face contact sessions) which could enable them to obtain assistance from
lecturers or fellow students. This may account for why many distance education
learners drop out. This sentiment is supported by Simpson (2000) who says that
distance learning is often a very isolating experience where learners are isolated from
other learners, tutors, and teaching institution and, sometimes, even from their own
family and friends. Such isolation may inhibit and even prevent the possibility of
enriching dialogue in their studies
According to Oakisa-Makoe (2005), there is for an environment that improves students’
commitment and motivation to learn. Therefore, learning support services should be an
integral part of successful distance education. The role and importance of learner
support can only be appreciated if curriculum developers and educators understand
how distance learners learn. Distance education should be a service oriented
undertaking, whereby the learner or client is central to the learning process. Therefore,
the centrality of the learner in distance education necessitates the provision of
necessary support for students.
In distance learning, learner support is very broad; encompassing a variety of activities
that go beyond the production and delivery of course materials that help students
progress in their studies. It covers as wide a spectrum of activities that range from the
organisation and management of student support (including staff development) to
direct interaction with students by tutors, advisors, mentors and other role players
(Simpson, 2000).
A successful distance education programme must design and apply effective learner
support services and systems. Unfortunately, many distance education systems
invest more resources in the technical system at the expense of the learner support
system. Equivalent or more resources should be invested in the learner support
system if the distance education enterprise is to be successful (Gunawardena, 1996).
Dillon and Blanchard (1991) described four types of support systems:
1) Learner support and learner needs
2) Learner support and content
3) Learner support related to the institutional context, and
4) Learner support and technology.
To this end, learner support has been defined by Garrison and Baynton (1987) as the
resources that learners can access in order to carry out the learning processes.
Garrison (1989), on the other hand, suggests that in distance education environment,
learner support should be concerned with a range of human and non-human
resources that guide and facilitate the educational transaction. Such resources may
include library facilities, various media and software programmes, community
leaders, as well as various socio-economic variables that include learners’ financial
self-sufficiency and capacity to cope with their roles and responsibilities in the family
and community. However, the most important form of support in an educational
transaction is the teacher, who through guidance and direction can assist the
students to achieve their goals and develop control of the educational process
(Garrison, 1989).
One important means of analyzing the effectiveness of the teaching-learning
experience in a distance education system is through the analysis of the learner
A. Olatoun Abiodun

support system. This is because learner support system is perceived to contribute to

the 'process' of a course as much as do the learning materials (Hodgson, 1986).
Accordingly, learning support systems that are developed in recognition of student
needs help the distance learner become competent and self-confident in learning,
social interactions and self-evaluation (Rae, 1989).
In view of the above literature and within the context of diminishing distance education
enrolment in Nigeria, this study examined distance learners’ perceptions of distance
learning support through a survey of National Open University Nigeria (NOUN)
learners. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed in this study:
1) What are the perceptions of National Open University (NOUN) learners to
learning support?
2) Are there any significant differences between the perceptions of male and
female NOUN students to distance education learning support?
3) Are there any significant differences between the perceptions of rural and
urban distance education students of NOUN with respect to learning support?
4) Are there any significant differences between the perception of old and young
distance education students of NOUN with respect to learning support?
The Features and Model of Distance Learning Systems in Nigeria
A number of factors were considered as basic ingredients that inform the design of
an open and distance learning (ODL) programme for Nigeria. These include:
a) The mission: In defining the mission of a distance learning system, such as
that of NOUN, the role of the system within the specific context of education
policy was considered. The mission of ODL in Nigeria is to enable
government to fulfil its social obligations as well as to encourage the citizens
to shoulder personal responsibilities in developing their full potentials and
contribute to nation building.

b) The Vision: In stating the vision of a distance learning system, such as that of
NOUN, the role of the system within the Nigerian context was considered. For
Nigeria the vision of ODL is to provide highly accessible and enhanced quality
education and anchored by social justice, equity, equality and national
cohesion through a comprehensive reach that transcends all barriers.

c) Programmes and Curricula constitute very important components of the

NOUN. Courses offered are similar to those offered by conventional
institutions. These courses are subject to similar regulations as regards
content and assessments, in comparison with the conventional universities.

d) Teaching and Learning Strategies and Techniques depend partly on the

type of programmes and the needs they are designed to meet. The principle
adopted for NOUN emphasizes the needs of learners rather than those of

e) Learning Materials and Resources make up necessary components in all

distance-learning systems. Development and production of materials is often
considered as a sub-system in distance teaching organizations and NOUN is
no exception. The Learning materials for NOUN and resources have been
developed based on the best practices and tailored to meet national needs.

f) Communication between teachers and learners is seen as a necessary

component in distance education as in all other forms of education. Open
learning systems on the other hand are often heavily based on self-study. The
importance attached to student-teacher interaction may vary considerably
A. Olatoun Abiodun

between different systems, and has been closely linked to educational

strategies for Nigeria (NOUN, 2005).
Theoretical Framework for the study
The constructivist theory of learning serves as the theoretical framework for this
study. From the constructivist point of view, learning consists of what the learner
brings to the situation by restructuring initial meaning in widening complex
understandings (Leder, 1993). This implies that learning is an organic process of
invention, rather than a mechanical process of accumulation. Constructivism takes
the position that learners must have experience in hypothesising, researching
answers, posing questions, investigating and inventing for new constructions to be
developed. It implies that lecturers cannot guarantee that learners will acquire
meaning just by dispensing knowledge. The learners must construct meaning while
the lecturer serves as a creative mediator in the process.
Based on the above premise, a lecturer/tutor of distance education does not serve as
the main source of meaning transmission; both the lecturer and student assume
multiple roles (Leder, 1993). The lecturer as facilitator of learning provides a tentative
structure of meaning through interactive text, review questions, skill-building,
questions and assignments, while learners begin to construct and confirm their own
meaning. This implies that group learning in distance education promotes active
construction of meaningful meaning through interactions with other learners.
Hawes (1990) opines that the construction of meaning involves critical thinking,
which is characterised by reasoned or reasonable evaluation. In distance learning,
learners are expected to use critical thinking in activities requiring careful judgement
or sustained reflection. Critical thinking also requires both the production of things
(ideas, arguments, reasons, plans, strategies, action, etc) and their evaluation
(choice, judgement, selection, etc) according to the purposes and constraints of the
situation. Accordingly, it is important to provide distance learners with all necessary
learner support services that promote skills for construct and critical thinking so that
learners become aware, explore alternatives, work through transition, achieve
integration and take action (Apps, 1991).
The provision of necessary learner support services will reduce the burden distance
learners experience as an isolated person because, to some students, studying in
isolation can be an important factor that leads to considerable disadvantage on their
lived experience, meaning attribution and involvement. On the other hand, the lack of
learner support services may impede a learner’s motivation in a learning situation by
the impairment of their aspirations.
Review of Related Literatures
The amount of support services an institution can offer largely depends on the
capacity and resources at the disposal of the institution. According to Molefi (2002),
learner support services in distance education can be put into the following two
• Academic, including such packages as tutorial, advising and counselling
• Administrative functions, such as enrolment, admission and registration,
record keeping, information provision, and delivery of study materials.
Learner support services are also important from the emotional perspective. Thus,
while traditional students have many physical clues of their attachment to the
institution, the provision of learner support services to the distance learning
population is an important part of creating the feeling of belonging for learners who
learn in relative isolation. Meanwhile, the literature (Boettcher & Cartwright, 1997;
Kovel, 1997) lists other learner support services as access to library materials and
facilities, delivery of course materials, traditional mail services, counselling,
A. Olatoun Abiodun

mentoring, job placement, and peer interaction. This is an indicative and not
exhaustive list of the services needed by distance learners. For example, Adekanmbi
(1994) suggests that learner support services should provide distance learners with a
learning environment that is calm, relaxed and friendly. Similar sentiments were
earlier expressed by Ijaiya (1999) who reported that both conventional and distance
education students learn best in a conducive environment.
Jaiyeoba (2000), in her study on managing tutors and learners in distance education
programmes, concluded that tutors play important roles in motivating learners and
assisting them to succeed in their studies. She further stressed that, despite the poor
qualities of some study materials, a good tutor who effectively utilises the allotted
time can make a world of difference in bringing distance learning to life, while a poor
tutor can cause a lot of damage to the learning climate and turn away even the most
dedicated and serious learners. Meanwhile, the UNISA experience reported by
Deidre (1997) shows that the presence of tutors assists learners greatly in
developing necessary skills that will enable them to interact with study materials, both
for the course they are currently studying and for those which follow.
Lewis (1984) confirms that since distance education learners often find themselves in
unfamiliar learning contexts, there is need for special learning packages and with
tutors who are available for tutorial classes to address any identified challenges. He
further stresses that challenges faced in the provision of learner support services are
no longer limited to face-to-face interactions, but include a variety of means such as
post, telephone, computer and the challenge of helping learners accept and use
unfamiliar media for contact.
Race (1989) highlights a number of ways through which tutors can support learners
in distance learning. Some of the ways are as follows include understanding the
feelings of learners and their problems, being a good listener, offering learners
whatever help is required, encouraging learners to form study groups, building
learner confidence in studies, being proactive to learners’ needs and making
themselves available when required.
Demiray (2002) asserts that open and distance learning (ODL) delivery systems are
made of myriad of innovative features that support learning, such as multi-media
course packages that range from print materials to e-learning, which is designed,
developed, adopted or adapted to suit the specific needs of a particular subject
matter and the differing learning habits and techniques of students. Meanwhile, the
pedagogy of ODL texts traditionally manifests itself in what many distance education
materials designers refer to as ‘instructional devices’ that act as learning support for
distance learners (Hartley, 1994). These textual materials contain instructional
devices that act as teaching techniques, tactics, and educational strategies that are
incorporated and integrated into instructional texts. The list of instructional devices
typically used in ODL texts include advance organisers, objectives, graphics
organisers, pre-tests, overviews and activities in the text. These instructional devices
can be clearly marked (signalled) in the text by the typography position or style, or
they can be embedded as part of the subject matter discussion.
In support of the above view, Holmberg (1989) says that all ODL text should not only
carry the subject content, but must also carry the pedagogy and the simulated forms
of communication, such as guided didactic conversation that promotes feelings of
personal empathy and belonging with the distance learner that consequently
improves motivation and learning quality.
To illustrate the importance of learner support services in ODL, Simpson (2000)
argues that learning centres need to be evenly distributed and not only based in
towns and cities. This will give willing learners the opportunity to learn within the
vicinity of his/her environment. This is corroborated by Quan-Baffour (2005) who
stresses that it is the moral responsibility of distance education organisers to support
learners, particularly those who live under difficult conditions in the rural areas.
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Therefore, learner support services should be seen as precursor to successful

distance learning. However, effective learning support also depends on the unique
needs and characteristics of the learner.
One important factor that contributes to success in distance learning is the motivation
or confidence of the learner. According to Dillion and Blanchard (1991), less
motivated learners may benefit from interaction with the teacher or tutor, while less
confident learners may need more group support than more confident learners. Older
learners, on the other hand, may require more support in testing environments than
young learners. However, if we want to know learner needs in a distance education
system, we must know the characteristics of adult learners, because a typical
distance learner is an adult learner. To this end, Ference and Vockell (1994) gave a
list of adult characteristics, which suggest that distance learners are 1) active-
learners, 2) experienced-based, 3) experts, 4) independent, 5) hands-on,
6) life-centred, 7) task-centred, 8) solution-driven, 9) value-driven, 10) skill-seeking,
11) self-directing, 12) externally and 13) internally motivated. This list assists
distance education curriculum developers and educators to have better
understanding of the learners, how they learn, and how best they can respond to
their needs in the development and provision of necessary learning support.
Another way of supporting distance learning is proper analysis of courses, paying
attention to the characteristics of the learners for whom the course was intended.
However, a profile of learners is never complete without reference to their learning
styles; something that Bennett (1997) says is usually neglected in teaching. Simpson
(2005) notes that many institutions that offer some kind of distance education
programmes do not give their students adequate support. He stressed further that
some ODL programme managers have not often been in the shoes of new and
unqualified learners for them to empathise with how such learners value support.
Boonzaaier (1996) identified two kinds of support that distance educators should be
offering to their learners. These are the intellectual support or tuition mainly for
academic development and personal growth and organisational /system and
emotional support or counselling for student development and personal growth.
These support actions should never be seen as mutually exclusive but as inclusive
and complementary.
Van Schoor (1996), on the other hand, suggests that counselling is as central to
learner support as tuition. The need to refocus on a more process-oriented culture
which acknowledges student problems and the need to deal with these problems
holistically has brought student counselling in from the fringes to play a pivotal role in
a democratised distance education environment.
Another important learner support area is the need of study groups. According to
Knowles (1988), the need for study groups for distance learners is more effective if
groups of learners with heterogeneous backgrounds, learning styles, motivation,
needs, interest and objectives comes together to share experiences. Group
techniques that could facilitate interaction include group discussions, simulation
exercises, problem solving techniques, case studies and laboratory methods.
Finally, Oosthuizen, (1994) suggests that there is need for thorough examination of
the context of distance learning programmes before organisers can provide answers
to the question ‘what learner support may be required mitigate distance learner
needs? In this context Gous (1987) asserts that characteristics such as age, culture,
environment, occupation, gender, scholastic, skills and experiences should be looked
into more closely. However, the varieties of experiences brought to the learning
situation by adult learners have implications for adult education (Knowles, 1988). For
example, a group of adults would be much more heterogeneous in background,
learning styles, motivation, needs, interests and objectives than a group of youths. All
these have implications on any form of learner support for distance learners.
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Descriptive survey research design was employed in carrying out this study. The
perception of distance education students’ perception on learners support was
surveyed and the data collected were subjected to statistical analysis.
Population and Sample
The study population consists of all the National Open University Nigeria (NOUN).
The sample consists of 360 NOUN students. Stratified random sampling techniques
based on the following strata were employed: male and female, rural and urban,
young and old was used to select 60 students across NOUN centres in the six geo-
political zones in Nigeria. Centres with over 20 000 population, electricity availability,
water, road network, health facilities, administrative capacity e.g. state or local capital
were classified as urban centres, while centres in a community with less than 20,000
people and with little of the features listed above were classified as rural centres.
For old and young students, distance learners aged 55 and above were regarded as
old while those from age 20 to 55 years were regards as young students.
The Instrument
An instrument titled “Distance Learning Support Questionnaire (DLSQ) was
developed and used for data collection. The DLSQ consisted of two sections. Section
A sought information on learners’ sex and level, while section B consists of 13 items
designed to measure the perceptions of NOUN learners on several distance learning
learner support aspects; quality teaching and learning, portfolios, counselling, textual
materials, and accessibility. The items used a two-point Likert scale of Agree (A) and
Disagree (D). The validity of the instrument was ensured through rational analysis of
the items on the instrument by some experts in educational management and test
construction. Their comments were used to modify the items. The reliability of the
questionnaire was tested using test- retest method on five schools that were not part
of the sampled schools and the reliability coefficient obtained was 0.85.
Data Collection and Analysis
The questionnaire was administered using a research assistant. Out of the 360
questionnaires administered, 330 were retrieved. Data collected were collated and
analysed using percentages, mean, standard deviation and T-test statistics.
Results and Discussions
Research Question 1
1) What are the perceptions of National Open University, Nigeria learners to
learning support?
Table 1: Frequencies and percentages of National Open University, Nigeria
Students’ perception on distance education learning support
Agree Disagree
Frequency % Frequency %
1 Allotted time for face-to-face tutorial is adequate. 115 35 215 65
2 Tutors are always accessible and willing to assist learners. 150 46 180 54
Tutors are always punctual and regular for face- to face
3 170 52 160 45
4 Studies progress report arrives on time. 200 61 130 39
Centres are conducive for effective learning and
5 210 64 120 36
The Institution is proactive to students’ grievances, queries
6 205 62 125 38
and problems regarding studies.
The existence support groups assist in comprehension of
7 190 58 140 42
study materials.
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The school gives pre-course, in-course, and post course

8 180 55 150 45
All texts pedagogy are associated with necessary
9 212 64 130 39
instructional devices to aid learning.
10 Textual materials cater for diverse learning opportunities. 200 61 130 39
The navigational tools in texts assist learners in finding their
11 205 62 125 38
ways and planning their reading tasks.
All the outreach centres serve majority of the willing
12 110 33 220 67
distance learners.
Assigning students to centres are based on students’
13 150 46 180 54
geographical areas/locations.
Table 1 shows the perceptions of distance education learners on learning support.
From the table, responses to the first question show that 215 or 65% of the students
sampled were not satisfied with the allotted time for face-to-face tutorials. Their
responses to item 2 from the table shows that 54% of the sample disagreed with the
item that tutors are accessible and willing to assist learners with clarifications and
interactive sessions. In addition, on the statement that tutors are always punctual for
face-to-face tutorials, 52% of the sample agreed with this statement. Sixty-one (61%)
of the sample agreed with the statement that the study progress report arrive on time,
while 64% of the learners agreed that their centres were conducive for effective
learning and interactions. Similarly, 62% of the students reported that the institution is
proactive to their grievances, queries and problems regarding studies, while 58% of
the sample felt that the existence of learner support groups assists in comprehension
of study materials.
Also 55% learners reported that proper academic counselling was provided with
respect to pre-course, in-course and post-course counselling, while 64% agreed that
all their texts pedagogy were associated with necessary instructional devices to aid
learning. Meanwhile, 61% of the sample reported that their textual materials cater for
diverse learning opportunities, while 62% of them agreed that the presence of
navigational tools in texts assists in finding their way and planning their reading
Finally, 67% of the sample reported that the NOUN outreach centres are yet to serve
the majority of distance learners, while 54% reported that learner distribution to
centres were not based on learner’s geographical areas or locations.
Findings from items 1, 2 and 3 support those of Jayeoba (2000), Race (1989),
Simpson (2000) and Lewis (1984) on the importance of tutors in motivating learners
as well as assisting them to succeed in their studies. Tutors should be available and
make judicious use of their time for tutorial classes to address any identified
Meanwhile, findings on items 4, 6, and 8 confirm earlier findings by Boonzaaier
(1996) and Van Schoor (1996) on the importance of counselling as a learner support
strategy for distance learners. According to these researchers, counselling is a
process-oriented culture which acknowledges student problems and the need to deal
with these problems holistically. Student counselling plays a pivotal role in a
democratised distance education environment by making the institution more
proactive to students’ grievances, queries and problems. The finding on item 5, which
shows that one requirement of learner support is to ensure that the learning
environment is calm, relaxed, and friendly, is in agreement with similar findings by
Ijaiya (1999), Javis (1987) and Adekanmbi (1994).
Item 7 on Table 1 confirms the findings of Knowles (1988) and Even (1987) on the
need for study groups for distance learners. According to them learning is more
effective if groups of learners with heterogeneous backgrounds, learning styles,
motivation, needs, interest and objectives come together to share experiences. This
implies Learning becomes more effective when learners learn collaboratively.
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The findings on textual materials are in agreement with those by Hartley (1994),
Holmberg (1989) and Gous (1987) on instructional devices in ODL textual materials.
These devices are a set of teaching techniques, tactics and educational strategies
that are incorporated and integrated into instructional texts as a form of support to aid
learning for distance learners. Instructional devices in ODL textual materials include
advance organisers, objectives, graphics organisers, pre-tests, overviews and
activities in the text and they are clearly marked (signalled) in the text by the
typography position or style, or they can be embedded as part of the subject matter
The importance of learning centres reported by the sample through items 12 and 13
confirm the findings by Quan-Baffour (2005) and Simpson (2000) who also reported
that learning centres need to be evenly distributed so as to serve all the willing
distance education learners. Also opportunity should be given to learners to learn
within the vicinity of his/her environment with adequate provision of learning support
to learners.
Research Question 2
2) Are there any significant differences between the perceptions of male and female
distance learners concerning the provision of learner support services?
Table 2: Gender-wise difference in perceptions concerning learner support
Group N X SD DF t Probability level Remark
Male 134 28 17
328 1.48 0.05 1.96 NS
Female 196 32 31
NB: 1.48<1.96 this implies that 1.96 is greater than 1.48; NS = Not Significant
Table 2 above reveals the perceptions of male and female learners on the provision
of learner support. The means representing male and female teacher perceptions are
28 and 32 respectively. However, the t-value of 1.48 is lower than the critical t-value
of 1.96 at probability level of 0.05, indicating that there are no significant differences
in the perceptions of learners classified by gender. This shows that both male and
female learners perceived the impact of learner support on their learning experience
to be the same. While Gous (1987) reported that characteristics such as age,
culture, environment, occupation, gender, scholastic, skills and experiences should
be examined to determine their influence on the provision of learner support services,
this study has revealed that there were statistically significant differences between
male and female learners of the NOUN.
Research Question 3
3) Are there significant differences between the perception of rural and urban
distance learners concerning the provision of learner support services?
Table 3: Differences in perceptions between rural and urban learners
Group N X SD DF t Probability level Remark
Urban 170 38 22
328 6.12 0.05 1.96 S
Rural 160 21 28
NB: 6.12>1.96 this implies that 1.96 is less than 6.12; S = Significant
From Table 3 the respective means on the perceptions of rural and urban distance
learners on the provision of learner support are 38 and 21. The calculated t-value of
6.12 is higher than the critical t-value of 1.96, at the 0.05 cut-off point, indicating
significant differences in the perceptions of rural and urban NOUN learners. This
finding, which shows that urban learners had significantly more positive perceptions
on the provision of learner support services than rural learners, suggests inequalities
in the provision and access to learner support services between rural and urban
A. Olatoun Abiodun

learners in NOUN. It is for such research findings that Quan-Baffour (2005) and
Simpson (2000) have argued that learning centres should be distributed evenly to
give willing learners the opportunity to learn within the vicinity of their environments
with adequate provision of learner support services, particularly for those who live
under difficult conditions in the rural areas.
Research Question 4
4) Are there any significant differences between the perceptions of old and young
NOUN learners with respect to the provision of learner support services?
Table 4: Differences in perceptions between old and young learners
Group N X SD DF t Probability level Remark
Old 171 45 24
328 5.60 0.05 1.96 S
Young 159 26 36
NB: 5.60>1.96 this implies that 1.96 is less than 5.60; S = Significant
According to Table 4 above, the means representing the perceptions of old and
young distance education learners on the provision of learner support services were
45 and 26 respectively. The calculated t-value of 5.60, which is higher than the
critical t-value of 1.96 at 0.05 probability level, suggests statistically significant
differences between the perceptions of old and young learners with respect to
provision of learner support. The import of this finding should be considered within
the context of earlier findings by Oosthuizen, (1994), Gous (1987) and Knowles
(1988) who attested the influence of age, culture, environment, occupation, gender,
scholastic, skills and experiences on learning styles, motivation, needs, interests and
objectives of distance learners. Thus, significant variations in the perceptions young
and old learners reported in this study has implications on the learning styles,
motivational levels, needs and interests of these groups of NOUN learners.
Implications of the study on Qualitative Educational Planning
The findings of this study suggest several implications that educational managers
and planners should consider when developing learner-centred support services. To
develop a robust learner support system and services for distance learners,
educational managers and planners in NOUN should consider the following;
• identify learners’ needs;
• develop a comprehensive learner support system that addresses learners’
• conduct extensive research into the subject;
• conduct regular monitoring and supervision to assist in collection and collation
of reliable data and to develop a meaningful two-way dialogue between
information providers (educational planners) and information users (decision-
makers operating at all levels of an education system) as regards situation
analysis of NOUN operations would assist to inform certain decisions by the
policy makers with respect desirable learner support system.
In addition, educational planners should come up with an action plan on the best way
to respond to identified learner support needs of these distance learners. The
following steps would guide this planning process:
1. Identification of policy-related questions that are faced by decision makers
aiming to improve the quality of distance education.
2. Prioritisation of these questions and precise linkage of them to potential future
policy decisions at the appropriate decision-making level with respect to
students’ learning support in distance education.
3. Use policy-related questions to (i) identify information that is relevant to
A. Olatoun Abiodun

learner support that might be available in existing data collections, (ii)

determine new data that might be required, (iii) eliminate redundancies due to
overlaps in existing data collections, and (iv) terminate rarely-used
“traditional” data collections.
4. Review appropriate coverage level of the data collection with terms of
operationalisation of distance education service delivery (census or survey),
timeliness of data collection (yearly or less frequently), and establishing major
gaps that are common in most data collections (especially information
describing student educational achievement, student time spend on various
curriculum offerings, student “tracking” patterns, tutor knowledge of subject
matter, competencies, efficiency and unit cost measures etc.).
5. Produce detailed specifications of distance education quality indicators that
would be assessed, including the provision and justification of construct
names, operational definitions, computer-based coding systems, techniques
and materials for use in data collection and detailed test blueprints that meet
reliability and validity requirements.
6. Collection, analysis, and preparation of appropriate data according to
acceptable scientific standards and the creation of appropriate data archives
that would be readily accessible for later secondary analyses.
7. Analyses of data using approaches deemed appropriate for the questions
posed and the backgrounds of the audiences that would receive the research
reports, including the presentation of appropriate measures of sampling and
measurement errors.
8. Develop linkages of suitable information dissemination procedures with both
the policy questions posed initially and the decision-making levels at which
the policy decisions would be taken, including formulation and testing of new
policy questions that emerge during the conduct of the data analyses.
All this would pave way for successful implementation of distance education
programmes in Nigeria and go a long way in meeting the required learner support
needs of distance learners, which would further enhance educational productivity and
promote system efficiency.
In conclusion, it is evident that everybody needs support as they go through life,
especially when there is a paradigm shift in what had been obtainable and
accustomed to in the past. On its part, this study has established that NOUN distance
learners require learner support services to ensure assure them of a rich learning
experience and promote success on distance education programmes. Finally, there
is need for better understanding of the characteristics of adult learners as a precursor
to the development of an appropriate learner support system and services that would
enhance learner participation in active and challenging ways in the learning process.
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