Distance education students’ experiences of learning support sessions

25 May 2021

Distance education is a learner-centred approach to education that emphasises independent learning based on the assumption that students are self-motivated and active in the learning process. However, due to the fact that distance education students study alone most of the time, there is a need to enhance their learning experience by providing support structures. Besides supplying learning materials, the University of Pretoria offers face-to-face support sessions to facilitate learning. Although students provide feedback on the sessions in the form of short questionnaires, there is a need to further explore their experiences using a qualitative approach to capture nuances of how the students experience and conceptualise learning support. It should also be established whether they think that it is worthwhile attending the sessions. This paper draws on theoretical insights from transactional distance theory, focusing on learning support in terms of dialogue in the learning facilitation process, the structure of the programmes and learner autonomy. Data was collected by interviewing students enrolled for the Advanced Certifi cate in Education (ACE): Education Management at the Distance Education Unit of the University of Pretoria. The study’s fi ndings suggest that the students consider learning support sessions to be benefi cial. The knowledge and skills gained during these sessions and through dialogue in the form of networking with other students contribute to their professional and personal development and – to some extent – to their learner autonomy. However, a need is identifi ed for the continuous development of learning support facilitators, material and administrative support structures to enhance the quality of the support system and to reduce transactional distance.