Electronic resources use by distance learners at University of Namibia.
Hamutumwa, Meameno Utuna Nampa.
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Universities are embracing technology and moving towards electronic resources information to facilitate research and learning. This has led to the belief that a significant number of resources used by library users in academic libraries lie in the virtual environment. Consequently, library users are required to acquire sufficient information, and information and communications technology (ICT) skills and competencies. Driven by the need to clarify the use and non-use of electronic resources by library users, the main objective of this this study was to investigate the use of electronic resources by distance learners at University of Namibia. The study therefore addressed the following research questions: What are the attitudes and perceptions of distance learners towards electronic resources? What electronic resources are available to distance learners at UNAM? What is the level of awareness of the learners about electronic resources available in the UNAM Library? What ICT competencies do distance learners have to effectively use electronic resources? What is the level of use of electronic resources by distance learners? What factors hinder the use of electronic resources by distance learners? And, what recommendations are needed to improve the use of electronic resources by distance learners? The study was underpinned by the post-positivist paradigm and used both qualitative and quantitative approaches. To determine attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of distance learners towards electronic resources, the study made use of the survey research design methodology. The population of the study comprised of distance learners, CES lecturers, centre coordinators, and UNAM Library staff. Data presentation laid out in this study was obtained through the use of survey questionnaires, interviews and observations. In assembling the data for analyses, the study utilised MS Excel and the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) to generate frequency counts, percentage and descriptive statistics for the quantitative data gathered, and employed the use of ATLAS.ti™ software and content analysis to analyse qualitative data. For reliability and validity, data collection instruments in this study were peer reviewed, pre-tested and triangulated. For the purposes of ethical considerations in research of this kind, the University of KwaZulu-Natal research ethics protocol were adhered to, and permission also sought from the University of Namibia to carry out the study in its distance learning centres and University Library. The findings arrived at in this study revealed that distance learners were positive about electronic resources due to prior experience, high self-efficacy and the various benefits derived by using them. However, they did not make use of e-resources subscribed to due to high cost, poor internet connectivity, electricity outages, lack of sufficient computers, and low levels of computer skills. As such, they preferred print resources. The results also indicated a very low level of awareness among distance learners about the electronic resources available in the library. It further showed that most learners lacked computer skills, searching skills, and sufficient training in the use of ICT and electronic resources. Moreover, many distance learners were self-taught or assisted by their peers in the use of electronic resources. Distance learners who used electronic resources acknowledged that it facilitated and assisted them to complete the tasks of writing assignments, research papers and research projects. The learners also characterised factors that inhibited them from effectively using electronic resources such as bandwidth bottlenecks, travelling long distances to the library, lack of skills, cost of accessing the internet and lack of awareness about the availability of electronic resources. Drawing from the research finding and results, the study construed that perceived usefulness, self-efficacy; subjective norms and facilitating conditions affect behavioural intentions of distance learners to use electronic resources. Moreover, these constructs are the most influential in determining the use of electronic resources. Given this, the study also arrived at the conclusion that the inadequacy of ICT infrastructures and facilities, the lack of awareness, and the lack of ICT skills and competencies, are all contributors to the learners‟ negative attitude towards the use of electronic resources, therefore, the reason why they preferred print resources. Against the backdrop of the study‟s conclusion, the researcher proffered key recommendations to improve policy, practice, skills and infrastructural development. These recommendations include the need for learning centres to be equipped with adequate ICT facilities and internet connectivity to meet the learners‟ information needs, especially with regard to accessing e-resources. The study further recommended that learners be equipped with relevant skills and competencies to make use of electronic resources, the implementation of an electronic resources collection development policy, and the improvement of the ICT infrastructure. Based on the research findings of this study, further suggestions were advanced for research to be conducted in the areas of: technology adoption by full time students at UNAM, the impact of access to e-resources and academic achievements, and e-resources use patterns among different genders, information seeking behavior of distance learners with regard to electronic resources, among others. Likewise, the study proposed the need for additional researches that would mostly use qualitative approaches to gain comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the use of electronic resources by distance students. From the general findings arrived at in the study, valuable contributions that could enable the UNAM Library to re-focus its services to better suit the needs of the distance learners have been identified. In adopting the contributions and recommendations made in this study, UNAM Library will gain an in depth understanding on those important factors that are needed to promote the use of electronic resources by distance learners in a developing country context such as Namibia. In this light, UNAM library can therefore make wise investment decisions in e-resources to derive maximum value for its users.