Learner support for distance learners A study of six cases of ICT-based distance education institutions in China
Abstract: This thesis focuses on learner support in Chinese distance education. It draws a picture of Chinese modern distance education, covering the major issues in the field of learner support, and small group work as peer support. The aim of the study is to find out whether or not the learner support, that distance students at university level obtained, has the tendency to support students’ deep learning. The aim has been achieved by examining learner support in six institutions of ICT-based distance education in China. Three other sources of learner support are investigated. The main objectives of the study are: 1) to describe the distance students’ characteristics; 2) to examine their learning habits, learning organizations, and their interactions; 3) to investigate the student support provided by the institutions; family support; societal support; and peer support in the form of small group work. The purpose of this study is to define current practices of learner support in the six distance education institutions, determining the extent of similarities and differences on learner support services among these institutions.The study is applying a case-study approach, using qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the six Chinese distance education institutions. During the first stage, several field visits were conducted in different research sites with on-site participant observation, non-participant observation and interviews for obtaining knowledge of Chinese distance education. In the second stage, a survey with a student questionnaire was distributed to students present and others online, in total 587. In addition, semi-structured interviews with staff members (administrators, instructors and tutors), individual students, and student focus groups were performed. The present research is one of the few in-depth case studies that focus on the relation between learner support system and different approaches to learning. On the basis of these research findings, the importance of a well-designed learner support system for the distance learner, a system for fostering creative, critical or independent thinking skills, or deep learning, in line with Chinese cultural and social conditions, is underlined.
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