The situation has become worse due to the suppression of cadre positions at all levels during the past few years. A traditional classroom, environment usually carries with it a certain level of social pressure. Ideally these behaviors should be there in the distance —learning class as well, but the social pressure to comply is absent since attendance is not compulsory. Since face to face sessions were reduced due to the introduction of new forms of technology, and for reasons of cost cutting most students were left to study on their own without any guidance.
Family problems, including family commitments and constraints in the work place was another reason for dropping out. However, in the past few years, this type of meetings were not encouraged or totally stopped in all centers due to short sited administrative blunders made by a previous administrative officer due to his lack of experience in distant mode education.
This was also mentioned as a reason for drop out. Further some of the visiting academics who were interviewed mentioned that dissolving of the student councils, lack of recreational facilities were also a factor affecting drop out and dis-continuation of studies. Another view expressed by most of the visiting academics was that lack of computer literacy and fear of technology specially among the older students was another reason of dropout. Using a computer even to type a assignment was difficult for some of the adult learners.
Some students did not know even to use a type writer properly. Most did not have even an e-mail address. According to the answers, given by focus group members, one of the main disadvantages, of distance learning is the absence of Social Interaction among students who are enrolled in distance learning programs. Unlike in the conventional universities, students often miss the aura of social interaction with teacher and their peers.
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Another draw back mentioned is that distance learning is an inappropriate format for everyone though many like to enroll. Due to lack of places in the conventional universities in Sri Lanka, of late, there is a tendency in younger people to enroll on the degree program offered by the department, pre-supposing, that just as in the conventional university, teaching method of the open university in Sri Lanka is also based on the traditional transmitting model.
Another important point mentioned in the discussion is that in Sri Lanka, there is a very strong tuition culture, where ordinary level students, and advanced level students pass competitive government exams due to strong doses of tuition almost in all subjects. In most of the tuition classes, probable answers to the popular public exams are dictated word to word by the tutors. Due to lack of places in the conventional universities or fear of ragging, there is also a tendency among the young people to select the open university, as a path way to their higher education without understanding the method of teaching.
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However, as mentioned, some students learn only when they are physically present in the class and assimilating all the information personally and with the help of peers. There is also a misunderstanding among some of the students is that Online degrees are inferior to the degrees offered by the conventional universities. This type of wrong perceptions or negative attitudes could reduce the motivation of teachers and as well as academics. In order to correct this wrong perceptions the department, needs to ensure the quality in content and delivery of distance learning courses that matches with the regular conventional campus classroom learning.
However, this has not happened adequately due lack of staff members and suppression of cadre positions during the past few years. As a temporary measure, of acute staff shortage at all levels, the department had recruited some temporary graduate assistants but due to the temporary nature of their jobs many have not lasted working and left the job when they found a permanent job elsewhere.
It is a fact that every time when one leaves, the department new recruits have to be trained again and this has happened constantly and had become a burden to the department. Many stated that specially in the regional centers, due to lack of equipment there was not much interaction, except raising of hands by the students. It is a fact that an effective distance learning class need to incorporate interactive tools, when introducing educative tools such as discussion boards, wikis and blogs, and synchronous audio or video components.
However, even with limited interactive tools used in blended online courses, only few students took the trouble to make use of them. Another important point that came from the focus group discussion was that, no body likes to take few courses at their own pace which is one of the key characteristic of distant mode of teaching.
The commonly expressed view of the focus group was that, almost all wanted to finish the course as soon as possible and get the degree. One reason for this was that since most of the students who joined the social science degree was relatively young, they all wanted to finish the studies as soon as possible because delaying the degree means, if they are not married, post phoning of marriage, and losing the chance of getting a suitable employment, since jobs were scarce commodity in Sri Lanka.
As solutions to the problems of student drop outs and increasing incomplete of required courses the following points were suggested by some of the focus group members. Introducing a retention system, such as keeping a reasonable deposit charged from the students, and reimbursing with the interest when they complete their graduation, or a kind of point system or reward system based on the completing of required credit courses, slowly moving away with transmission model of teaching, more and more participatory, and interactive teaching sessions, and increasing of personal contacts with tutors and peer groups.
Many agreed that new forms of technology is useful and promising but problems with equipment and lack of adequate equipment and infrastructure need to be attended to before trying out new innovations, and visiting lecturers and regional directors and technicians need to be properly prepared and instructed on the use of new technology.
How do we bridge the gap of distance faced by the students? Are the new forms of technology bridging this gap or widening this? The opinions and valuable insights expressed in the focused group shows reasons for dropout and discontinuity of the degree may be due to problems of social presence, lack of feedback and interactivity, faced by the students, as well as other problems mentioned in details. It is no doubt new technology mentioned above as Web O2 technologies have worked well in many countries because of the available adequate resources, and other necessary infrastructures that suits the modern technology.
However, the Open University of Sri Lanka has a long journey ahead before welcoming such innovations.
This paper has further highlighted that stakeholders responsible for bridging the gap of distance embedded in the distance education for students are not only the department in which they are enrolled but the whole university, namely starting from a chief executive to a security guard. Unless there is synergy of all stakeholders working towards one goal, namely making the distant student and their immediate environment pleasant new forms of technologies are not going to be effective.
As said by Greenberg, advancement in technology does not lead to effective distance education [ 31 ]. The best distance education practices depend on creative, well-informed lectures, tutors, instructors and student friendly academics and non-academic staff. As expressed and articulated in this paper there are other urgent needs that need immediate attention before we embrace new forms of technology. Finally this research paper has highlighted the urgent need for further research on various aspects that have surfaced within focus group discussion. Arts Social Sci J 9: DOI: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Select your language of interest to view the total content in your interested language. Home Publications Conferences Register Contact. Guidelines Upcoming Special Issues. Figure 1: SSU Communication studies. The research design and method a For the purpose of this case study, a qualitative method, namely focus group, using a purposive sample was employed.
Results of the design are outlined as indicated below: b A literature review with particular reference to the problems of distance learning, and advantages and disadvantages of new forms of technologies were made.
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Data collection Qualitative research method, namely a focus group discussion with visiting academics, including some regional directors were made. The instrument The study was done by means of focus group interviews with the visiting academics of the regional centers and regional directors. Journal of Research on Technology in Education Anderson T, Whitelock D The educational semantic web: Visioning and practicing the future education. Journal of Interactive media in Education.
Peters O Some observations on dropping out in distance educatio n. Distance Education Delahoussaye M, Zemke R 10 things we know for sure about learning online Training Hipp H Women studying at a distance: What do they need to succeed? Open Learning Journal of Higher Education Galusha J M Barriers to learning in distance education.
Moore M Three Types of Interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education 3: The American Journal of Distance education 8: Shin N Transactional Presence as a critical predictor of success in distance learning Distance Education Knapper C Lifelong learning and distance education. American Journal of Distance Education 2: Higher Education Keegan D Foundations of distance education 3rdedn , London: Routledge.
Journal of Distance Education Mc Knight M Distance education: Expressing emotions in video-based classes. Holmberg B The sphere of distance education: Theory revisited. Cavanaugh C The effectiveness of interactive distance education technologies in K learning: A meta-analysis.
The American Journal of Distance Education Sherry L Issues in Distance Learning. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications 1: Dibiase D Is distant education a Faustian bargain?
Journal of Geography in Higher Education Trudie Frindt The impact of video conferencing in distance education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. Share This Article.
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