Understanding distance learners’ academic and social adjustments: evidence of best practice from a South African context

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Rebecca Ferguson
15 May 2017

Firdevs Melis Cin, Ashley Gunter, Dianne Long, Clare Madge, Jenna Mittelmeier, Paul Prinsloo, Parvati Raghuram, Katharine Reedy, Bart Rienties and Jekaterina Rogaten

The proportion of students studying in international distance education programmes has risen dramatically in the last decade, particularly in developing countries (UNESCO, 2012). One such example is South Africa, which has become a regional hub for international students with over one-third studying distantly. Previous research demonstrates that distance students show low degree attainment (Prinsloo et al, 2015) and learning design affects their retention and satisfaction (Rienties and Toetenel, 2016). However, relatively little is known about international distance learners’ educational transitions, including academic and social integrations. Although there is a wide body of literature on international student adjustment and integration, this research often makes the assumption that students are physically located at the host institution, and there is a scarcity of research on distance education experiences.

The International Distance Education with African Students (IDEAS) project aims to address these gaps in knowledge through a research collaboration between the Open University and the University of South Africa. The project explores international distance student experiences across Africa, including their educational transitions through higher education and the role of learning design in academic and social inclusion. At the CALRG 2017 conference, we will present the initial findings from a cross-cultural comparison of learning analytics data from domestic and international distance students at UNISA. We will also describe the academic and social adjustment patterns of 500 international distance students across Africa.

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