One of the primary aims of distance education is to reduce inequality among different sectors of a population. Although the causes of inequality differ from country to country, some of the more commonly cited causes are poverty, limited access to education in rural or remote locations and outdated structures for education and training. Distance education also targets adult populations, people who may not have had the opportunity to educate themselves at a young age. For all of these reasons, the provision of learning and tutorial support by the providing institution is critical to the success of any distance learning programme.
Apart from structured forms of delivery and curricular requirements, policy makers may provide support in a number of ways, some of which are outlined below.
- Language and literacy support is often necessary for groups of learners who are unable to communicate effectively in the target language. This is often necessary when the adult learner is a first generation tertiary-level student, i.e. someone whose parents and grandparents did not get a college degree.
- Learning skills, study strategies and computer literacy support is provided for less-skilled learners at the start of a programme. This helps learners become more equipped to deal with content-based and academic courses.
- Tutorial playback in the form of audio or video recordings of past face-to-face tutorials is provided to allow learners to revisit class discussions. Learners may use this to revise for a test or to clarify a point that they did not understand.
- Online ‘tutorials on demand’ are sometimes provided for learners to discuss course content or activities with an instructor (and/or peers). Although this may be difficult to arrange, it need only be carried out for a small duration, e.g. for half an hour at a time.
- Tests, activities, short-answer questions, short online projects, extension activities and the like can be made available in a self-access mode. This not only encourages individual responsibility but also helps build autonomous learning skills.
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