Learner Support Services and Online Distance Education: A Case Study on Bachelor of Business Management (Online) Degree Programme

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1 Learner Support Services and Online Distance Education: A Case Study on Bachelor of Business Management (Online) Degree Programme Abstract Rathiranee, Y Senior Lecturer, Department of Financial Management, University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka Distance education has evolved from a teacher centered model to a learner centered model, the roles and responsibilities of instructors and other learner support providers have changed to being more practical than imprudent. In 1990 s a new generation of distance learning emerged in the form of a computer based instruction delivered over networks. The internet would begin to serve as the main medium of delivery. This type of Distance Learning course is often referred to as online learning. Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) Online Degree Programme is the first online Tamil Degree Programme in Jaffna University and which had been introduced in Due to the conflict situation in Jaffna it was commenced on 2009 however the fund was granted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through the Distance Education Modernization Project (DEMP) in Sri Lanka in When the programme was initiated, it faced challenges and difficulties without awareness regarding the online mode of education among the staff of the Jaffna University. Most of the students who work in the private and the public organizations follow the degree and they depend on learner support services to enhance their knowledge and skill and qualify their examination. A critical element of an effective succession program for online students is Learner Support Services (LSS). Learner support comprises all the assistance provided by a distance education or an online mode system which matches the facilities which a face to face system provides for the success of its students. LSS include tutoring mentoring, content development, Technical support services, interaction with students and administrative activities. This study examines the first time online learners perceptions of the learner support services provided by the faculty of Management Studies & Commerce, University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The study suitably used both primary and secondary data. In this case, the researcher selected 96 students from BBM online degree programme conveniently. Qualitative and quantitative techniques have been used to survey the study. The data was gathered from the forums, discussions and interview with the students with the help of structured questions. Descriptive analysis and frequency table have been used to find out the results. While many factors contribute to the learner support, the level of interaction and support are at the top of the list. It is concluded that sixty percentage (60%) of the students in Online learning program report feelings of isolation, lack of self-direction and management, and finally decrease in motivation levels. This study identifies the types of LSS strategies that can effectively address the challenges. Suggestions from the study by getting feedback from the students that the facilities such as usage of modern technology, ie using video conferencing, uploading PowerPoint presentation with sound recording and the advance instructions regarding examination and other face to face activities and the effective administrative procedures should be enhanced regarding the LSS. In order to provide LSS that help students successfully participate in online degree programme at University of Jaffna interactive strategies are needed to enhance students self directed learning skills and reduce their feelings of isolation. Outcomes of the study would benefit the academicians, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners of Sri Lanka and other similar countries. 1. Background of the study In recent times the distance education mode has been developed in the developed and developing countries as one of the mode of education model which helps to all students to study without physical appearance. More universities and organizations are starting online programs. Much of this increase is due to the demands of the students who are conspired by distance education, mostly because they face a number of obstacles that make conventional method of teaching. In Sri Lanka the Open University is an important institution providing the distance education mode system and the online learning system has been introduced by some of the Sri Lankan Universities and other institutions. Online learning system uses the web based education system and the study guidance is provided by Learning Management System (LMS). The Jaffna University provides Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) Degree programme in Tamil medium as an external degree under the faculty of Management Studies which was the first degree programme in Jaffna University. 232

2 Learner support activities include tutoring and teaching; counselling and advising including such services as orientation, learning and study skills assistance, academic advising, and career and personal counselling; and administrative activities such as admission and registration, library and information systems, and infrastructure support for activities such as peer tutoring and alumni organization. In other words, learner support activities are all those interactive processes that are intended to support and facilitate the learning process. This research explores the Students perception on learner support services for the BBM Online students in Jaffna University. Traditionally learner support in distance education has been identified as being a completely different set of activities. However, with the implementation of online learning, this distinction does not always hold and the line between the two sets of activities has become much more distorted (cf. Thorpe, 2003). The BBM Online Degree programme provides the variety of LSS to the students and who are facilitated to interact with other students and teachers. No opportunities to find out the feelings of the students whether they are satisfied or not with the services. This study tries to answer the following question: Does the first time online students perceive the learner support services of BBM Online Degree is remarkable? The main objective of this study is to identify the online students perception regarding the learner support services provided by the faculty of Management Studies and Commerce. In addition to this the following objectives also are incorporated in this study. To find out the obstacles when the LSS are provided To suggest the possible solutions to overcome the obstacles and To recommend the strategies for learner support services to be satisfied the students. 2. Theory and Hypothesis Learner support services play a key role (Ludwig-Hardman & Dunlap, 2003) since they serve as a vitally important and effective mechanism to counter challenges of attrition related to online learners sense of isolation and inability to function as self-directed learners (Keegan, 2003). In addition, knowing who the learners are and using this knowledge to inform the design and provision of learner support services increases the likelihood that they meet learner needs as well as inform best practices in this area (Hughes, 2004; Moisey & Hughes, 2008). According to Abrami and Bures (1996) some students in distance learning programs and courses report feelings of isolation, lack of self-direction and management, and eventual decreases in motivation levels. These factors are supported by Tinto s (1997) model of institutional departure with its central notion that student persistence is strongly predicted by their degree of academic integration (e.g., performance, academic self esteem, identity as a student, etc.) and social integration (e.g., personal interaction, connection to academic community, etc.). One of the most reliable problems associated with distance learning environments is logic of isolation due to lack of interaction (Bennett, Priest and Macpherson, 1999; Harasim, Hiltz, Teles and Turoff, 1995). This logic of isolation is linked with attrition, instructional ineffectiveness, failing academic achievement (Booher and Seiler, 1982), and negative attitudes and overall dissatisfaction with the learning experience (Thompson, 1990). In this case the following assumptions have been established as hypothesis: 3. Methods H 1 : Learner support services provided is remarkable in the BBM Online Programme. H 2 :Students perception on learner support services avoids the feelings of isolation. The study suitably used both primary and secondary data.. There are two batches are going on smoothly. This is a three year degree programme and two semesters per year. Altogether 6 semesters with 96 credits must be completed by the students. First batch is in the fifth semester and the second batch is in the 2 nd semester. In this case, the researchers selected ninety six (96) students from BBM online degree programme conveniently. The data was gathered from the forums, discussions and interview with the respondents. The Learner support services have been categorized as tutoring mentoring, content development, Technical support services, interaction with students and administrative activities. Feeling of isolation and lack of self direction and management are included under the Students perception which have 233

3 been measured by three point likert scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree that is related to learner support services and revealed by the percentage of respondents. In this case above the percentage of 50 has been accepted as a remarkable learner support services have been provided in this programme. The linkage between students perception and learner support services have been illustrated by using correlation analysis. 4. Results Students perception on learner support services has been illustrated by using percentage of the respondents responses as follows: Table 1: Percentage of Students perception on Learner Support Services: Learner Support Services Strongly Agree or Agree % Neutral or No Opinion % Strongly Disagree or Disagree % Tutoring Mentoring Content Development Technical Support Services Interaction With Students Administrative Activities Source: Survey results Table 1 shows that the perception on learner support services reveals below 50% agreed with the learner support services which can t be said as remarkable. Therefore, the first hypothesis has been disproved from this result. Table 2: Relationship between Learner support services and students perception: Tutorinm entoring Content developmen t Technical Support Services Interaction with students Administra tive activities No Feeling of Isolation self direction and mgt. Tutoringmentoring Content development Technical Support Services ** 0.576** 0.437** 0.576** 0.413** 0.437** ** 0.472** 0.657** 0.478** 0.468** ** 0.658** 0.415** 0.428** Interaction students with ** 0.497** 0.478** Administrative activities No Feeling of Isolation ** 0.437** ** 234

4 Self direction and mgt. 1 ** - Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level Correlation test was made to examine the relationship between variables and results are tabulated. From the Table 2 the results revealed that there is a significant relationship between the Learner Support Services (LSS) and perception of the students at 0.01 significant levels. From this result the hypothesis 2 has been disproved because the relationship between the perception and learner support has the weak moderate relationship and it could be proved that the students feel isolation and lack of self direction. 5. Conclusion From the above results it can be concluded students dissatisfy with their learner support services because they feel isolation, lack of self direction and management, unethical submission of assignments and lack of technical facilities etc. Insufficient academic support leads to them to withdraw from their course. Further, students performance depends on effective LSS and the possible suggestions from the study by getting feedback from the students that the facilities such as usages of modern technology i.e., using video conferencing, uploading power point presentation with sound recording and the advance instructions regarding examination and other face to face activities and the effective administrative procedures should be enhanced as LSS in order to improve the performance. And some strategies are highlighted as suggestions to improve the quality of the LSS in future. When this delivery mode is new, student s lack of access to support services such as advising, tutors, libraries and technical support, placed them at a disadvantage. It should be concentrated carefully by the faculty. Designing support services should be available for the online learning students, including support for admissions, registration, career advice, tutoring, academic advising, library, etc., will result in a more personalized approach for online students. This also includes groups formed between librarians, advisors, and technical support with teaching faculty, which can be essential in helping students complete their courses successfully. Technical support by telephone, , online chat, or web-based tutorials, for both students and tutor-mentors, are crucial in limiting the extra burden of managing the technology along with mastering the course content. Students can refer to this support when they have difficulties on completing exams or submitting assignments, rather than failing to complete the required work. Failure of internet access and power failure should be eliminated in the Jaffna region. References 1. Bennett, R. (1986) Through the open door - today's revolution in open access and distance learning, Journal of European Industrial Training, vol. 10, no. 6, pp Cartwright, W. and Miller, S. (2000) Setting a research agenda for multimedia cartography, Proceedings of Mapping Sciences Institute Australia National Conference - Beyond 2000 Spatial Business Daring to Change, December, 2000, Sydney, pp Daniel, J. (2001) Distance education and the developing world, Association of Commonwealth Universities Bulletin, no Keremidchieve, D, & Yankov, P, (2001), Challenges and Advantages of Distance Learning system, Information & Security, Volume 6, Pp Stacey L, Hardman, C. (2003) Learner Support Services for Online Students: Scaffolding for success, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 4 (1) McDougall, K. and Dowling, D. G. (1996) Education, communication and integration: a look at the future of distance education in surveying, Proceedings of 37 th Australian Surveyors Congress, Institution of Surveyors Australia, April 1996, Perth, Australia, pp Nyirenda, J.E. and Kakanda, A., (1982), Distance Education at the University of Zambia. Media in Education and Development, 15, (1) 2225, Rumble, G. (2000) Student support in distance education in the 21st century: Learning from service management, Distance Education, vol. 21, no. 2, pp

5 TUD 9. Thomas, W. R. (1999) Electronic Delivery of High School Courses: Status, Trends and Issues. Southern Regional Education Board. 10. Nanayakara, G.L.S. George, W, (2007) Research Studies on Tertiary Education Sector, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka. 11. Lakshman, J, Hettiaratchi, K, (2009) National Online Distance Education Service - NODES Handbook for School Libraries and use of Career Guidance Teachers. 12. BBM Online Degree Proposal submitted to the DEMP Office, Memorandum of Understanding and other Faculty board, Senate Reports and documents. 13. Direct interviews with related staff and direct observations and experiences regarding the BBM Online Degree Programme. 236

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