February 27, 2006

Are autonomous learners put off by "self-study courses"?

Again from the AUTO-L archives. A contributor from Africa asked these questions:
I would like to pose questions related to distance learning which have puzzled me for 2 years now. And your answers to them will be vital in partly informing the academic query I am udertaking:

1. To what extent do student presume responsiblity for their own learning in online learning?

2. Why is it that online student drop rate high (in Africa) ?

3. How can we attend to issues of academic dishonesty in student works which I observed to be pervasive?

The synopsis of the context from which I have posed these questions are presented below. I participated in an online (distance) learning program at at Xxx University... At the start of this online program in March 2003, about 35 students registered for the program. Despite the high motivation and a good number of student at the start, the program is now only left with 10 students currently. And the reasons I assume for this significant drop out rate to me is directly or indirectly related to poor student irresponsibilities, academic dishonesty and other unforeseen factors. These are just the uconfirmed assumptions that underpin my inquiry. Given this context, is it possible that other online learning contexts are affected by the assumption that I make in the above three questions? And how do we really overcome them to save every kind of resources which are obviously wasted?

Someone responded, thusly:
Here's an interesting response from a distance educator in Canada to an Ethiopian distance learner questioning the viability of distance education, which suggests that learner autonomy is a discouragement for learners.

'One of the biggest variables,' attrition rates are higher when learner autonomy is a requirement.
----- Forwarded message -----
Subject: Re: Student Responsibility, Academic Dishonesty & Online Learning

Before I could attempt an answer to the questions, I think I need more detail about the nature of the "online learning". You'll find large differences in the answers to your questions depending on the nature of the system and design, any Face-to-face meetings, use of local study centres, types of technology, degree of interaction, type and maturity of students etc. Without this detail, it is like saying why do students hate class room teaching - and the answer is that some do and some don't.

Having noted the above, one of the biggest variables relates to the individual versus collaborative nature of the learning. 'Online learning" can support either but we find our attrition rates are higher when we employ self paced and/or independent study models.
And here's a response to my contribution (my emphasis):
Perhaps the autonomous learner stays clear of courses claiming to offer 'self-guided study.' To equate participation in such a course with being an autonomous learner is like saying the prisoner in solitary confinement is likely to be a monk.
What led up to the situation in which they are in?

> it may be run
> as a course rather (i.e. following a transmission model of learning,
> rather than, say, an acquisition model; see George Siemens' article
> "Learning Development Cycle" here:
> http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/ldc.htm )

I think he's saying the autonomous learner is a round peg in the square hole of the educational system, so let's change the system. In his case, the system of instructional design, from a transmission model to an acquisitional model.

> 2) Online learning involves more than just putting a regular course
> content online. There is also the lost F2F factor to consider. How
> does one get around this? One factor (I seem to remember reading
> somewhere, but can't find the source for the moment) is whether the
> course also offers collaboration opportunities between the
> participants or not, and the degree to which it does so successfully.

As a metaphor, Education Is a Party, a social event.
Are the autonomous learners those who have left, or those who are still part of the system?
Are those who have left still learners? That would be interesting to know.

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