An effective learner support system is “very crucial” to the retention, graduation, and success of learners in open distance learning (ODL).
The approaches and strategies to provide good learner support in ODL were presented to some 20 academic staff of WOU by freelance education consultant Dr Kuldip Kaur, during an in-house workshop on ‘Learner Support in ODL’ held at the main campus today.
Dr Kuldip highlighted three factors critical to the successful retention and graduation of learners. The first is that one or more individuals must drive the process of ensuring the provision of quality learner support. “If you are a course coordinator, you have to drive it for your course. If you are a Regional Centre director, you have to drive it for that centre. Everyone has to have their own individual responsibility.”
“Secondly, a process based on a detailed data must be developed, measured and monitored closely for at least five years in order for quality to thrive. We want evidence-based research, and a reasonable judgement based on the data.” Meanwhile, the third factor is having a team of individuals from across the university who are committed to student success and meet often to assess student progress, she added.
She suggested a few strategies for ensuring learner support and retention/graduation. Among them are expanded academic and advising services; expanded tutoring services (online); a structured programme to work with undecided students; providing coaching for groups of students who are at high risk for non-retention; expanded opportunities for high-achieving students and economically disadvantaged students; and early intervention.
Dr Kuldip further elaborated on the academic’s role in relation to the six aspects of learner support, namely adult learning, tutorial, counselling, administrative support, ICT, and quality assurance.
“The support that we give, the system that we design for support, has to be incorporated in a variety of issues. Each learner comes with a different request, which we also have to deal with daily. The kind of learner support we provide is complex, multifarious, and we need to play multiple roles on a daily basis,” she remarked.
Dr Kuldip said that online distance learners have special needs, including access to information to help them relate to the institution and understand its system; contact with tutors to help maintain motivation and overcome learning problems; a sense of institutional identity to help them feel that they are part of a body of learners; and advice on good study techniques.
She also shared some of the common problems faced by online distance learners, such as too busy to attend tutorials, lack of books and libraries, family pressure, a lack of confidence, a sense isolation, lack of motivation, no undisturbed study time, and a lack of own study space. She discussed the role of academics, course coordinators and Regional Centres to identify the problems affecting learning among adults, and to address them through learner support.
The participants were given a few individual and group activities to gauge their understanding of learner support and the roles they can play. The full-day training was part of the University’s ODL Core Competency Certificate Programme (ODL-CCCP).