|dc.description.abstract||I explored the support structures and strategies used by adults to cope with distance
learning (DL). The Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) wished to become a world
class university of excellence while students struggled to complete programmes. My
argument is that education cannot produce the quality of graduate that society
expects unless access is accompanied by adequate effective learner support. I studied
adults’ experiences with the ZOU support structures and student’s strategies that they
used to cope with: administration of the programme, availability of learning
materials, library, information communication technology (ICT) needs, studying in
isolation, tutorials, assessment and financing the programme. Adults’ strategies for
integrating study with employment, family and social commitments, and their
suggestions for improving learner support in DL were crucial aspects of my study.
I used a mixed-method research design of the phenomenological interview and a
questionnaire survey. The design helped in comprehensive coverage and cross-data
validity checks. My sample comprised three sets of Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.)
students that completed on time, those that delayed completion and others that were
on the programme. My epistemological position is that data obtained from interviews
reflects participants’ perspectives. I collected data from past and current students. I
used phenomenological interviews to understand the subjective world of my
participants and the questionnaire to determine relationships among themes and
cross-check findings for the sake of generalization.
My study revealed that students used ZOU administrative and academic structures to
cope with DL. The structures they used include: the regional centre staff and
facilities, orientation, modules, the library, ICT, contact tutorials, assignments,
examinations and projects. However, some students faced challenges in: orientation,
communication, use of modules, supervision of assignments and projects, missing
results and funding which contributed to delayed completion of the programme.
As adults, my participants also used: social contracts with family and employers,
study groups, private extra tutorials, outsourcing ICT services, dedicated study and
past examination papers, buying own books, borrowing money, self-help income
generating projects and paying fees by instalment as well as good time management
to cope with DL.
I recommend research into and improvement of: communication between ZOU and
students, student support services, preparation and supply of modules and ICT, staff
development on supervision of assignments, projects and examinations, and also
student funding to enhance the quality and rate of programme completion in DL.
Keywords: support structures, strategies, adults, cope and distance learning.||en