Background of the Study
Open University is a means of providing access to quality and equitable educational opportunities for those who wish to improve and upgrade their knowledge. It is a social evolution which has brought real educational transformation that will bring about the desired changes and development at the speed educationists have never imagined before (Okoronkwo, 2010). Its uniqueness lies on its flexibility, easy access, immediate application and the use of combination of media to provide mass education. It uses varieties of digital technologies to liberalize education, turning homes and offices into learning environment as rich as that of schools, colleges and universities (Delvaline, 2005).
The rapid growth of the concepts of open and distance education are possible because of continuing increase in the demand for education, encouraged by the convergence of digital technology. Though they are sometimes used as one but distinct concepts, Open Learning refers to situations where learners use resources in a flexible way to achieve their learning goal. These resources may be print, audio- or computer-based; used at home, at a study centre or in the workplace; with or without the guidance of a tutor or mentor (Commonwealth of Learning, 2003). Distance education on other hand refers to situations where learners are physically separated from the educational provider, communicating in writing, (using letter mail, email, fax, or computer conferencing); verbally (by telephone, audio conferencing, video conferencing); or in face-to-face tutorial sessions (Okoronkwo, 2010). Hence, open learning allows access to study without academic restrictions. Distance education programmes may follow the same approach of open learning, that enables as much independence and self-determination as possible. Therefore open and distance education is a flexible form of adult education, providing help to learners in many kinds of learning environments. It has also become a legitimized mode of education and has globally been embraced as a cost effective model for providing higher education to a large segment of the population (Krishnan, 2012).
In Nigeria, the history of open and distance learning dates back to the earliest and pioneering efforts by institutions such as City Correspondence College Lagos and University of Ibadan Extra-Mural Studies Department. These correspondence colleges were all engaged in correspondence education and registered students for London General Certificate Examination (GCE) Ordinary and Advanced levels. In 1974 the University of Lagos established a Correspondence programme to provide educational access to adult distance learners and today known as Distance Learning Institution (DLI) of University of Lagos. The Federal Government of Nigeria also established the National Open University (NOU) in 1983 which experience several set back by different Military Governments. In the 1990’s also several universities established satellite campuses and study centres which also suffered a lot of criticisms especially in providing substandard open and distance learning and were shut down by the National University Commission (NUC). The National Teacher Institute (NTI), Kaduna is another phenomenal establishment in the history of Nigerian open and distance learning. It was established to provide quality teachers for Nigerian schools.
The National Open University was initially established on 22nd July 1983 as springboard for open and distance learning in Nigeria. It was suspended by the government on 25th April 1984. The Federal Ministry of Education in collaboration with the UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (COL) held several conferences that led to formulation of new National Policy on open and distance education. However, its tremendous and unassailable role in tackling the country’s educational problems including access, equity, and education for all became so evident and consequently its resuscitation was begun on the 12th of April 2001. In 2002, the National Open University Act of 1983 was reactivated and this paved way for the resuscitation of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) as we have it today (NOUN, 2014).
It operates from its Administrative Headquarters located in Lagos, with study centres throughout the country. Currently the student enrolment stands at over 120,000. NOUN currently offers over 50 programmes and 750 courses, stair casing through from certificate to diploma and degree level, and maintain a strong commitment to internationalisation. NOUN was established with mission to provide functional, cost-effective, flexible learning, which adds life-long value to quality education for all who seek knowledge. The learner support service of the institution is therefore designed to assist in accomplishing this mission.
National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) has a directorate that is responsible for the learner support services called the Directorate of Learner Support Service established in 2003. The major goal of the directorate is to help learners maximize the gains and the purpose of their studentship in all ramifications NOUN (2014). The directorate is headed by a Director with sixty one (61) study centre managers, students’ counsellors, instructors and tutorial facilitators, a number of ICT staff and knowledge management technologists across the country. The directorate also provides face-to-face tutorial, library services, laboratory work for science students and computer practical at all the study centres. A well-equipped e-learning has been established too at the Headquarters linked up to 16 centres and conduct interactive video conferencing and tutorial on line across all these centre from just one base (Ipaye, 2007). All these are to help the learners go through their education with the most minimal difficulties. The Directorate is comprehensive but its ability to help the students of the university effectively achieve their educational pursuit is still a puzzle. This is a very vital issue because distance learners are mostly adult learners and are most often very busy and prefer flexible learning system like open and distance learning which will allow them learn and work as well as learn and engage in other life activities. Thus they are faced with enormous challenges like family, career, political, economical, health even cultural issues that may inflict some level of learning difficulties (Patrick & Ihejirika, 2012). These challenges can be reduced through effective institutional support, and a meaningful support system that will contribute to overall student success and completion of course programme by recognising the needs of the students, assisting them to become more competent and self-confident in their learning, social interactions and self evaluation (Rae, 1986). Therefore, it requires that any distance and Open University should design, implement and apply effective functional learners support services for the success of distance learner.
Learner support services are all aspects of the institution’s provision from the enquiry desk, through quality of learning activities and all aspects of interpersonal relations between the institution’s staff and its learners. These include provision of personal guide, counselling, library services, media resources centre/service, feedback, study kits, tutoring and administrative guidance prepared and designed to assist the open and distance learner successfully achieve academic goals. Learners support service enhances and contributes to successful completion of distance learner’s educational needs. Babatude (2010) noted that learner support service ensures that distance learners go up to the educational ladder putting forth their best, they assist learners to cultivate a sense of direction and become motivated in their academic work. It also develops in them a sense of belongingness to the institution as well as to help them graduate at the shortest possible time.
Achieving effectiveness in open and distance learning institutions requires a range of quality services for learners to complement the varieties of course material offered uniformly for all learners (Delvaline, 2005). The importance of quality learners support services cannot be under estimated, especially because of the fact that in distance education, learners are physically removed from the teacher and also isolated from other learners. They are faced with some unique needs and challenges from family, social, career, business including their academics. These challenges may pave way to frustration and dropping out of the programme if not addressed properly. Thus, quality learning experience becomes difficult without adequate learner support services in open and distance education. There should be an interactive relationship between the institution and the students to ensure that distance is removed or reduced from education. Learner support services are very crucial to NOUN, it is the learner support services that distinguishes open and distance education from private study, teach yourself programme and even correspondence education (Kegan, 1990). According to Nunan (1993), it is an all pervasive component of open and distance educational process which ensures that learning and teaching are approached from a learner-centred perspective. Learners support services encompasses provision of counselling, library services, media resources centre, feedback, orientation, study guide/kits, and face-to-face tutoring prepared and designed to assist the open and distance learner to achieve his/her school pursuit easily and at shortest possible time.
Counselling is an integral part of learner support in open and distance education (ODE) which is based on interpersonal or group communication and interaction between the counsellor and learners (Okopi, 2008). The counselling services are useful to build confidence and motivate the distance learner, reassure them that they are heading towards the right direction, as well as to clarify doubts and problems pertaining to the course programme (Rickwood & Godwin, 1997). Counselling support services can be academic and administrative. Academic support includes information about scheduling of face-to-face tutorials, advice on course choice and lots more. While administrative support provides general enquiries regarding admission, registration, advice on course exemptions, course amendments, change of address/examination centre, financial services and issuing of study material.
Library services are also important element of learner support in open and distance learning. The library services include provision of studying materials to enhance understanding of the course material and assignments; this can be online or hard copy at study centre. On the other hand, feedback and comments on assignments are essential component of learner support services in open and distance learning. They are useful and very important teaching and learning device. The nature of the tutor’s feedback or comments on assignments determines the learner progress in a course programme. Thus it should be constructive and relevant to learners work.
Another significant component of learner support service is face-to-face tutorial employ to abridge the separation between the central design and production of instructional materials as well as comprehension of the course material by the distance learners. Face-to-face tutorial utilizes a variety of teaching methods and visual aids to make the course interesting, easy to follow and rewarding. It also encourages questions, dialogue with the students to share their experiences and knowledge. Study kit also help in ameliorating the challenges of separation between the between the tutors and learners. Good study kit entails providing learners with relevant course information, identification of tutor support available, familiarization with the programme and the institution, developing a sense of belonging with the institution and identification with personal tutors, (Ryan & Dowling, 2006). Study kits are provided at the early stages of the programme to enable the distance learners effectively participate and get complete satisfaction from their programme of study.
Finally, media resources can be very resourceful support services for both academic and administrative support. These media resources and technologies are reconfiguring the ways in which students learn, and provide new approaches to networked learning (UNESCO, 2002). The development of a range of technologies has accelerated exponentially, mainly due to the invention of digital electronics. This is clearly seen in the emergence of the Internet, mobile devices, other multi-media and technologies. They are meant to improve students-teacher and students-students interaction, to provide suitable supports designed to overcome the negative effects of isolation and lack of regular contact between the distance learner and teacher.
As a pervasive component of the open and distance education, learners support services are prepared and designed to assist the open and distance learner to achieve his/her school pursuit easily and at shortest possible time. Learner support services are services provided to be utilized by distance learners but studies have shown that most students are unaware of the different types of support services and that student use these resources at a low level at National Open university, Lagos and Ibadan study centers (Omoike, 2013). Ajadi, Salawu and Adoye, (2008) reported that inequality of access to the support services by NOUN students is one of the challenges facing the use of the support services. Ajadi et al went on to say that most of the students are reluctant to take responsibility for their learning but preferred to be spoon-fed at all times which could affect their performance. Also adult distance learners are faced with enormous challenges like family, career, political, economical, health and even cultural issues that may inflict some level of learning difficulties (Patrick & Ihejirika, 2012). This is even more difficult for married distance learners especially the women who have additional responsibility to keep their job/ business, taking care of the family daily activities, etc. According to Burns & Gabrich (2001) as cited in Patrick & Ihejirika (2012) observed that when women enter colleges their role demand expands. They face pressure from their family, spouse, home, and employers. These challenges may restrain distance learners from entering formal school and even when they enrol without experiencing reasonable support services, may equally drop out and it is even more prevalent among the women. Also the epileptic nature of electricity power, poor ICT and poor electronic media penetration in Nigeria may cause a major impediment to effective interaction in distance learning (Okopi, 2008). Moreover, the flexible nature of open and distance learning makes learning an independent and self-directed putting the learning burden more on the learner. Thus the learner has to develop a coping strategy to overcome isolation, lack of regular peer group interaction, and absence direction by the tutor. This separation could result in a serious disconnect without learner support services to solve the diverse learning difficulties (Patrick & Ihejirika, 2012). All these are the reasons the researcher sought to examine the level of utilization of various learner support services provided to distance learners at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), so as determine how they have contributed to the progress of learning at NOUN and the problems associated with its utilization.
Statement of the Problem
Learner’s support service has been described as indispensable to facilitate the full development and success in the learning process of the distance students. The Learner Support Service at NOUN was set up by the directorate to support all categories of learners as they try to go up the educational ladder, ensuring that they put forth their very best. In spite of these, the most critical issue is the ability of these various learner support services to assist students to achieve their personal educational goals and its ability to reflect on the varieties and diversities of the individual needs. However, distance learners are mostly adult learners and may be faced with the challenges of balancing learning with family responsibilities, career, political, economical, health and even cultural issues that may inflict some level of learning difficulties which could also affect the extent of utilization of learner support services. Most of the leaners are unaware of the support services and which affect the extent they utilize them and equally affect their academic performance. The recognition of the unique needs of the distance learners and the ability to respond appropriately is the foundation of the distance learning. Also most distance learners are reluctant to take responsibility for their learning and preferred to be spoon-fed.
Regrettably, the separation of tutor and learner and among students themselves may also take away much of the social interaction that is very essential in learning environment. The isolation that results from the distance learning may complicate learning process for distance learners which may hinder the level of utilization of counselling services, library services, face-to-face tutorials, feedback on assignment and use of study kits. Other challenging factors which could affect utilization of the learners support services are poor knowledge of the learner support services by the distance learners, poor ICT knowledge by the distance learners; epileptic power supply, poor ICT and electronic media penetration, high cost learning software, and lack of internet connectivity in Nigeria may hinder quality interactions. It is on these bases that the researcher sought to examine the extent of utilization of learner support services by the students of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East study centres since learners support services are indispensible for effective learning at open and distance learning.
Purpose of the Study
The major purpose of the study was to examine the extent of utilization of learner support services by students of National Open University of Nigeria, (NOUN) in South East study centres. Specifically, the study sought to achieve the following:
- Examine the extent counselling services as a learner support service has been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres.
- Ascertain the extent library services as a learner support service has been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres.
- Find out the extent feedback on assignment as a learner support service has utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres.
- Examine the extent study kits as learner support service has been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres.
- Ascertain the extent face-to-face tutorial as learner support service has been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres.
- Find out the problems associated with the utilization of learner support services by distance learners at NOUN South East Study Centres.
Significance of the Study
This study will be of immense and practical significance to development and provision of high quality open and distance education both for the learners, policy makers, professionals, researchers, scholars, society and providers of open and distance learning particularly to National Open University of Nigeria, (NOUN). Theoretically, this study will be a vehicle for more knowledge since learners support services promotes quality learning through interactive participatory process between two parties. The theories anchor on the interactions and facilitations where the institution, tutor and students take actions and responsibilities to promote students’ self-confidence and learning.
The findings of this study will benefit open and distance learners by identifying how learner support services are being used, the knowledge of these will ensure greater motivation and effective participation in the learning process. The study will provide more options such that students will adopt learner support services that are best suited for individual characteristics, promote their learning capabilities. Ultimately the result of the study will help in reducing the fear, frustration and lack of confidence experienced by learners in open and distance education especially because Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is seen as self-directed learning.
The result of this study will also benefit immensely the providers and institutions running open and distance learning in Nigeria in achieving the goals of distance education in the National Policy on Education (NPE). It will contribute to a more effective operation and delivery of learner support services for learners of open and distance learning. It will especially help in achieving the mission of the Directorate of learners support services at National Open University of Nigeria, to help learners maximize the gains and the purpose of their studentship in all ramifications.
The society could also benefit from the finding of this study. The essence of learning is to make or build up students that will be functional and contribute to nation building. The main purpose of learners support services is based on the belief that learner centred support services are essential for meaningful learning at a distance and enable students to articulate and find ways of solving their problems in a mutual way. Thus such learners centred support services will encourage the desire to learn at a distance that will ensure immediate application to problem solving in the society.
In addition, the finding of this study will assist professionals, scholars and education policy makers to extend more research on operation and delivery of learner support service in Nigeria and ensuring best practices in open and distance learning. The findings will add value to the already existing body of knowledge in ODL support services to make better decisions, improve policy, advance uses of the new information. Finally, the findings could provide empirical research information for researcher that are interested in learners’ centred support service in quality open and distance learning.
The following research questions are posed to guide the study;
- To what extent has counselling services as a learner support service been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres?
- To what extent has library service as a learner support service been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres?
- To what extent has feedback on assignment as a learner support service been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres?
- To what extent has study kit as learner support service been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres?
- To what extent has face-to-face tutorial as a learner support service been utilized in the promotion of learning at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) South East Study Centres?
- What are the problems associated with the utilization of learner support services by distance learners of NOUN at the South East Study Centres?
The following hypotheses are formulated for this study
Ho1: Gender is not a significant factor in the mean rating of male and female NOUN learners on the extent counselling services is utilized as a learner support services to promote learning in NOUN South East study centres.
HO2: There will be no significant difference between the mean ratings of male and female NOUN learners on the extent library service as a learner support service is utilized in the promotion of learning at NOUN South-East study centres.
HO3: There will be no significant difference between the mean ratings of male and female NOUN learners on the extent Face-to-face tutorial as a learner support service is utilized in the promotion of learning at NOUN South-East study centres.
HO4: There will be no significant difference between the mean ratings of single and married NOUN learners on the extent study kits as a learner support service is utilized in the promotion of learning at NOUN South-East study centres.
HO5: There will be no significant difference between the mean ratings of single and married NOUN learners on the extent feedback on assignment as a learner support service is utilized in the promotion of learning at NOUN South-East study centres.
Scope of the study
The study will focus on the utilization of learner support services by the students of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), South East Study Centers. The study is restricted to the current students of the National Open University of Nigeria, South East Study Centres. Specifically, it will be restricted to the extent counselling services, library services, feedback on assignment, and Study kits as learner support services has been utilized in the promotion of learning at NOUN study centers. It will also look at various problems associated with the utilization of learners support services at National Open University of Nigeria, South East Study Centers.