Learner Support in Distance Education
This Wikibooks chapter provides an overview of learner support in distance education. The chapter explains theories and models, reviews previous studies, and discusses current findings and future research areas.
As learner support has developed, there have been specific approaches to possible theories in distance education. There are three important models that are underlying student support, including (1) counseling models, (2) learning style models, (3) motivation models.
There are various types of counseling presented in different schools and contexts. But these counselings could be distinguished in two very broad categories including, humanistic and behavioral therapy models.
- Humanistic counseling, also known as person-centered counseling revolves around a basic judgment about the “self-directedness” of individuals and how they deal with issues in their lives by being helped to clarify their feelings in such a way as to enable them to make decisions for themselves. (Simpson, 2012) It will allow learners to explore their creativity, personal growth, and self-development with the acknowledgment of various choices. Self-awareness and self-realization are encouraged by the learners through the process of reflecting on who they are and what they feel.
- Unlike humanistic counseling, behavioral therapies are more focused on modifying learner’s behavior rather than their feelings. One type of behavioral therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to improve mental health. It focuses on a person’s cognitive processes, including thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes, and how these can be challenged and changed in order to change how that person feels, (Simpson, 2012)
- Another example would be Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), which is thought that activating events in a person’s life will lead to beliefs and these beliefs will lead to consequences. Thus, it is the counselor’s task to clearly explain how the process has worked in their own life. In this way, it will change those beliefs and hence alter the consequences of the learners.
In distance education, these counseling models are useful in terms of learner support. By not only including the self-centeredness and non-directional nature but also logic rationale. By using the mixture of both counseling models in learner support, learners will start by listening to the background experiences and feelings about the assessments among the students then would try to clarify those feelings to reconsider their self-awareness.
Learning Style Models編集
There are over 20 learning style inventories done by various people to explore effective learning for the students. One of the most popular inventories was the Honey and Mumford Learning Inventory (1986), which claimed to identify activist, theorist, reflector, and pragmatist. In distance learning, learning styles are popular as though students could be assessed for their favored learning style at a distance and then be advised to study by that style. (Simpson, 2012) However, according to other researchers, there is no credible evidence that learning styles exist in a real context.
The idea of learning styles was linked with the concept of learning skills development. This advocates that the important aspect of learner support was to identify the weakness of the individual learners’ educational background and previous learning abilities. Then, appropriate therapeutic support could be offered to the learners, which allows for the distance learning skills to be taught to the learners. These skills could be applied to their own studies.
Overall, the intertwining of different learning style models and learning skills development supports the learners to successfully process their learning. In distance education, not only understanding the learners’ situation but also providing the most appropriate learning that learners could acquire various skills are important to consider.
The end of what drives most students of distance education to drop out is the loss of the motivation to learn and balance with their daily lives. There are different theories specifically about learning motivation, such as:
- Self-Determination Theory
- Achievement Goal Theory
- Self-Efficacy Theory
- Interest Development Model
- Expectancy Value Theory
- Epistemological Identity Theory
- Self-Concordance Model
- Belief in a Just World Theory and others… (Simpson, 2012)
Also, there are theories that suggests the enhancement of students’ learning motivation by distance educators. Some examples are listed below:
- Self-Affirmation Theory
- Keller’s ARCS Theory
- Positive Psychology
- Theories of Self and others… (Simpson, 2012)
In distance education, learner support is provided with applying these theories of motivation models in order for the students to not only successfully learn but also understand the purpose of studying through the courses in distance education.
In conclusion, all 3 theories, including (1) counseling models, (2) learning style models, (3) motivation models are considered to be important aspects for learner support in distance education. The ideas from these theories are then applied to various models of learner support. As time goes on, different researchers further develop a model of learner support in distance education.
Student Support Services (Tait, 1995)編集
Tait (1995) has suggested that the first step for planning any kind of learner support is to determine who your students are and what their expectations are. (Özoğlu, 2010) Student support services are produced by distance education institutions. There are instructional materials provided to facilitate the learning process. The activities included in the student support services includes the following:
- Advising and Counselling
- Individual or Group Tutoring
- Promoting Learning and Examination Skills among Learners
- Feedback on Assessments and Learning Progress
- Career Guidance and Solving Administrative Problem (Tait, 1995)
This learner support appears to motivate learners in distance education by helping them select their appropriate track of study, encouraging them in the appropriate use of educational facilities to graduate successfully. (Anjana, 2018) Learner support allows students to pace their distance education, which is essential for successful learning. In addition, learners could keep track not only of their educational purposes, goals, and needs but also their academic requirements. Leaner supports are provided for the students to meet their needs.
Three Primary Domains of Learner Support (Tait, 2000)編集
Tait (2000) identified three primary functions for learner support in ODL – “cognitive”, “affective” and “systemic”, all of which are crucial to student success. (Brindley & Pual, 2004) These domains are essential as a planning and management model of learner support. This model is not prescriptive but rather adaptable depending upon learner characteristics and contextual factors such as geography, scale, management system, and technological infrastructure. (Ritcher & Anderson, 2014)
Cognitive support includes the facilitation of learning for students’ education through materials, feedbacks, etc. Through the provision of solid course materials, guidelines, and learning resources for each of the students, it will support the learners to successfully process their learning in distance education.
In terms of affective support, a supportive environment should be created, where students could lower their anxiety of learning through distance education. Through the creation of communities such as discussion forums, counseling opportunities, it will enhance the self-esteem of the learners. It is important for the students could not only receive support from the students but also have an environment where they could talk to other students. In this way, various questions could be asked about the course or their interest. Expanding the community will allow individual learners to crank up each other's enthusiasm. Therefore, according to Tait (2000), affective support is thought to be one of the important primary domain of learner support. Lastly, systemic support focuses more on the establishment of administrative process and information management systems leading to an effective, transparent and friendly environment for the students. According to Tait, it is also necessarily related to the objective of providing an environment where students feel at home, where they feel valued, and which they find manageable. (Tait, 2000) Therefore, facilitating a system where students could maximize their learning with motivation and active participation is important as learner support provided in distance education.
ARCS Model, including affective, reflective, cognitive, systemic (Atkins, 2008)編集
According to Atkins, The ARCS model was created, which categorizes student support services into four domains including, affective, reflective, cognitive, and systemic. (Jung & Hong, 2014) This model is expanded from the original model mentioned above, which was created by Tait. In addition to the three main interdependent factors: cognitive, systemic, and affective, reflective is added. Reflective support allows the framework to have the development of the capacity to reflect on goals and action to engage in continuous learning to occur in learner support. The ARCS model recognized not only the importance of students' cognitive development, but also their affective development, their reflective processes in terms of how motivation changes or is strengthened as they study, and systemic support (Atkins & Beard, 2009)
- The Affective Domain
- The affective domain affects the feelings, confidences, beliefs, and interests of the distance learners. The suggested serviced include strategies to help students develop identity, values and beliefs, interests, and potential as students of a particular subject, boost confidence and independence, sustain motivation and celebrate success, and develop self-management skills. (Jung & Hong, 2014) In the affective domain, the learner support will be taken into account to concern how students are feeling, whether they are confident and finding pleasure in the course. Through various services, it will facilitate the students to experience not only their personal growth but also their development at social levels.
- The Reflective Domain
- According to the ARCS model, to allow distance learners to reflect on their learning, actions, and goals, the reflective domain is thought to be one of the important factors in learner support. The example of the reflective domain may include reflective journals that allow the distance learners to think back about their entire experience as distance learners in the course. By rethinking the purpose of studying as well as the original motivations, it will help the distance learners to clarify their objectives of learning. It includes both assistive and developmental supports. Assistive supports are the provision of information, advice, and guidance regarding subject-matter, finance and fees, disability and additional requirements, and admission and registration, whereas developmental supports focus on the provision of information, advice, and guidance. (Jung & Hong, 2014) The reflective domain will not only support the students within the course but also allow students to become successful life-long learners by reflecting on their own process of learning.
- The Cognitive Domain
- The cognitive domain includes the supports of distance learners to gain their knowledge based on their learning needs. The activities may include, summative and formative assessments, feedback on various activities, assignments, and assessments, facilitation of learning media, and preparation for exams. In addition, the learner supports that is in the area of the cognitive domain will help distance learners to apply the gained knowledge to various situations. In this way, distance learners will be able to have deeper learning to the extent where they could not only acquire the knowledge but also apply that knowledge in real-life situations.
- The Systemic Domain
- As the distance education courses are facilitated, distance learners may face problems such as technical issues or accessibility with the services. The systemic domain supports the distance learners in these areas. Through the assistance for registrations, supports through learning, library access, technical support, the distance learners will be able to successfully progress their learning. This domain is also intertwined with all other supports including affective, reflective, and cognitive as its supports is related to the overall facilitation of the courses.
All of these four domains are important factors included in the learner supports for the learners in distance education. It affects motivation, confidence, learning skills, identity, employability, etc. of the distance learners.
Elaborating The ARCS Model Highlighting Gender (Jung & Hong, 2014 )編集
In addition to the ARCS model, Jung and Hong's (2014) study identifies the gender-related mention incorporated into the ARCS model. With the clarification of the usefulness of the ARCS model, the gender-consideration support domain was further investigated as an important and influential factor for learner support in distance education. Based on the research on the Asian distance learners, the study concludes that the gender-considerate support addresses the socioeconomic, cultural, and educational barriers that can seriously impede women's participation and success in higher education. (CITE) As a result, additional supports for women may be necessary due to the fact that their participation and success could be influenced by various factors, which were the following. (Jung & Hond, 2014)
- The nature and quality of the secondary education they receive
- The economic circumstances
- Home locations and access to support
- Class, caste, race, and occupation-related identity issues
- Cultural and religious norms governing gender relations
- Early marriage, child-raising, household responsibilities, and pressure to work leading to problems in balancing family, work, and learning
- Mindsets and gender stereotyping, which encourage women to pursue careers in child development, teaching, nursing, and service sector occupations.
Therefore, it was concluded that learner supports that will overcome the issues caused by these factors may be offered by means of the formal and informal face-to-face or online sessions with the consideration of time management, distance learners’ self-confidence, thoroughly planned study schedules, and fulfill the use of online tools.
Empirical studies have been carried out in diverse geographical, cultural, and educational settings. Such previous studies can be classified into three categories:
- Analysis of the effectiveness of existing learner support services
- Investigation of challenges of distance learners and suggesting potential needs for learner support
- Research on difficulties experienced by learner support providers
Analysis of the Effectiveness of Existing Learner Support Services編集
Within this category, a variety of studies have been conducted to research the effect of learner support measures on learners’ learning experiences. Learner support services include cognitive supports from the ARCS model such as tutorial support, purposeful interaction, gamified approaches, and multimedia materials. One of the studies also investigated the influence of systematic support, a messaging tool, on the learning experience. Learners’ learning experienced were also analyzed using several factors such as the level of motivation and engagement in the course.
Learners’ Motivation and Tutorial Support (Amponsah, Torto, & Badu-Nyarko, 2018)編集
Amponsah, Torto, and Badu-Nyarko (2018) conducted empirical research where they investigate factors affecting the motivation of distance education students at the University of Ghana. They prepared a questionnaire to clarify what motivates distance learners to study in the course.
They concluded that distance education students enrolled in a higher education program had career development as their top reason to pursue a degree, meaning that they were extrinsically motivated. This study also revealed that the affordability of the program, the availability of financial support, the flexibility of the programme and tutorial support positively affected the level of motivation for students to stay on the programme. Especially, cognitive learner support through face-to-face tutorials enhanced students’ motivation in the programme. It was an important factor in student retention that encouraged many of them to fully complete the programme. Therefore, the study revealed the influence of cognitive support, tutorial sessions, on learners’ level of motivation.
Learner's Motivation and Purposeful Interaction (Abrami, Bernard, Bures, Borokhovski, & Tamim, 2011)編集
Another study was carried out to investigate the effectiveness of interaction to promote students’ motivation in learning. Abrami, Bernard, Bures, Borokhovski, and Tamim (2011) analyzed the role of guided interaction, the cognitive domain, in distance education and concluded that interaction promotes students’ motivation. They argued that guided, focused and purposeful interaction allows learners to consider why they are engaging in learning activities and hence reflect on their motivation to study.
Level of Engagement and Gamified Approaches (Collin, 2018)編集
The study was carried out to research the impact of a gamified approach, the cognitive domain, on levels of students’ participation and achievement in assessments of the distance learning course. (Collin, 2018) Collin (2018) stated that a gamified approach might have positive effects on learners’ motivation. The author intervened in a third-year programming course required to major in computer science, which is offered only through the medium of distance education. The measure intended to introduce a playful element in the course in order to increase the level of students’ motivation. He incorporated eight game mechanics in the course such as awarding points and badges, a journey motif, and a leader board.
The study showed that such gamified approaches may not lead to increase participation in coursework. Additionally, there was little evidence that gamified interventions improved students’ achievement in assessments. Therefore, it is unlikely that the gamified approaches enhanced students’ effective and efficient learning and functioned as cognitive support.
In contrast, game mechanics positively impacted students’ motivation, which is the affective domain of learner support. To begin with, the provision of points, badges, and levels acted as supportive feedback that can build feelings of competence in students. Secondly, the intervention allowed students to be responsible for the name that will be displayed in a leaderboard and flexibly choosing the learning journey. These measures maintained the autonomy of students. Lastly, feelings of relatedness between learners were developed through the on-boarding process with known-as name and introducing themselves on the discussion forum. The author argues that these strategies made students realize that they have peers to work with together. Consequently, the results showed that students generally showed a positive attitude towards the implementation of a gamified element, and it was effective in supporting students’ affective aspects.
Level of Engagement and Messaging Tool and Multimedia Materials (He, Zheng, Di, & Dong, 2019)編集
Another research showed that the frequency of using learner support service is highly relevant to the pattern and level of student engagement. (He, Zheng, Di, & Dong, 2019) He, Zheng, Di, and Dong (2019) investigated the effectiveness of online learner support services to encourage students’ engagement in distance education at Xi’an Jiaotong University. The school developed online learner support services that consist of two parts: the AM service and the WG service. The AM service is the provision of a messaging tool. It is the systemic domain where students can directly contact teaching assistants, technicians, or faculty when they need any kind of support with studies, exams, systems, or school events. On the other hand, the WG service is a multimedia material, the cognitive support, provided for each distance education course. The materials are developed and edited by course instructors and teaching assistants. The material summarizes questions that are frequently asked by students, explains challenging exercises, and recommends various resources related to the course.
The findings showed that students who used online learner support services demonstrated a greater level of engagement in the course. Additionally, the study proved the quantitative relationship between the number of times students used the service and their engagement. Therefore, the study indicated that the systemic support through the provision of a messaging tool and cognitive support that offers multimedia material are both effective to enhance students’ engagement in learning in distance education context.
Investigation of Challenges of Distance Learners and Suggesting Potential Needs for Learner Support編集
The studies in this category investigate challenges experienced by distance learners. Such challenges differed from one another depending on the context in which the research was carried out. The authors also proposed possible areas for improvement to provide new or better learner support services.
Learner Support in Distance Education in Developing Countries (Ouma & Nkuyubwatsi, 2019)編集
The study investigated institutional challenges in managing and delivering learner support in distance education in Uganda. Ouma and Nkuyubwatsi (2019) qualitatively researched the faculty staff and students in a Ugandan university using the methodologies such as interviews and reflective logs.
The result showed that there were two challenges experienced by the university in administering learner support: lack of faculty staff’s skills to support distance learners and inadequate availability of the infrastructure to provide instant feedback. To begin with, human resources at the university were limited and therefore it resulted in staff exhibiting rudeness and being unapproachable. Therefore, students were not able to receive appropriate support when they are in need. Secondly, the instant feedback to assignments could not be provided due to technical issues such as the poor supply of electricity and infrastructure in many rural areas. The article concluded that building institutional capacity for distance education is crucial to provide better learner support services.
The study also revealed that distance learners experienced challenges with reading class materials due to their native culture. In African culture, people value oral communication rather than written communication. This cultural characteristic resulted in students not reading course materials effectively. Although learner support providers attempted to provide necessary materials to learners, most of them were not able to use it effectively. Therefore, the author argued that it is essential for the university to provide appropriate services that teach students how to cope with reading materials in the course.
Dropout Rates and Learner Support (Choi & Kim, 2017)編集
Choi and Kim (2017) carried out a study to research factors affecting adult student dropout rates in the Korean cyber-university degree programs. They investigated the correlation between dropout rates and four types of factors: individual factors, external factors, internal factors, and outcome factors.
The findings demonstrated that basic scholastic aptitude significantly influences students’ dropout rates. Therefore, the author suggests that the university should provide appropriate support programs to help students with low basic scholastic aptitude. Moreover, learners with physical constraints resulting from work, family, or personal issues were more likely to drop out of the course. Therefore, it is necessary for course administrators to support students with physical constraints.
Research on Difficulties Experienced by Learner Support Providers (Charlotte, Pamela, & Angie, 2013)編集
The research was carried out to investigate challenges that both learner support providers receivers and experience in distance education. Charlotte, Pamela, and Angie (2013) investigated methods used by U.K. university libraries to support distance learners and challenges experienced by librarians at the Distance Learning Support Service in Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom. They also distributed a questionnaire to distance learners from the same university to investigate their behavior in receiving learner support. They also compared answers from librarians and distance learners to analyze if there is any disparity between their perception of learner support services.
The result showed that although librarians recognize the importance of collaborating with the course instructors, they often find it difficult to achieve it. They also find it challenging to meet the diverse needs of distance learners. Distance learners are diverse in the realm of background, previous educational experience, and levels of information literacy. Therefore, the type of support that they need from librarians differ from one another. It is difficult for librarians to support each learner in a customized manner. Additionally, findings indicate that librarians do not use synchronous virtual reference and user-education tools frequently.
The distance learners found the provision of scanned-materials and receiving books by post very useful. Learners receive user support from librarians through online guides and tutorials. However, they also use non-instant methods such as telephone and email to contact librarians when they need support.
The study proposed the future area for improvement that librarians should experiment with such technological innovations to provide a service with better quality. The authors suggest that the provision of e-resources and synchronous virtual reference will be beneficial for both librarians and distance learners. It is also suggested to enhance electronic communication to provide more instant support.
The researches have been carried out in various geographical, cultural, and educational settings to investigate the role of learner support in distance education. They can be categorized into three types of studies that are about: (1) existing learner support measures, (2) distance learners’ needs that reveal possible services to support them, and (3) challenges experienced by learner support providers.
There have been many pieces of research done in the first category, especially in developed countries. In developed countries, distance education has been popular for decades and learner support measures have been already implemented. Therefore, it is more possible for researchers to investigate their effectiveness in relation to learners’ affective factors such as motivation and engagement.
The second category has been also researched by several scholars and it is revealed that there are many rooms for improvement in learner support depending on the context of distance education.
Future Research Areas編集
In contrast, there are not many pieces of research carried out in the third category, challenges experienced by learner support providers. It is possibly because researchers are more interested in improving learners’ experiences in distance education, and thus directly research their activity in distance education. However, it is also crucial to investigate learner support providers’ challenges. It is because students’ learning experiences will be most enhanced when learner supporters are providing all kinds of assistance that they can give. It is important to investigate their challenges to solve any issues and maximize the level of their performance. It is also possible to research not only their challenges but also supports that they find effective. It allows the institute to study if there is any gap in the perception of learner support between learners and supporters.
Additionally, the reflective domain from the ARCS model has not been researched considerably. It could be because it is difficult to quantitatively measure the level of students’ reflective behavior. However, it is essential for distance learners to be reflective to keep up their motivation. Hence, more researches should be carried out to figure out how the institution can enhance students’ reflective thinking. It is possible to conduct qualitative research where they study the relationship between learner support and individual students’ thinking routines. It is also one of the future research areas to research the reflective domain of distance learners.
The review of previous studies revealed that there is an interdependent relationship between four domains of the Atkins’ ARCS model. For instance, cognitive support such as the provision of tutorial support can influence learners’ affective features, the level of motivation (Amponsah, Torto, & Badu-Nyarko, 2018). Thus, future research can be conducted to investigate the relationship between the four domains of the ARCS model.
Furthermore, the articles chosen for our previous studies were based on the search of ICU discovery. We entered the keywords such as "Learner Support", "Distance Education", "Distance Learner's Motivation", and "Dropout Rates". Therefore, by using other search engines and entering different keywords, the articles found and their categorizations may be different. It is a limitation as the articles found are within a single database with the accessibility owned by the university.
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