Weathering challenges of the isolated learner

OPEN and distance learning (ODL) may be gaining popularity but it also comes with its own set of challenges.

According to higher education institutions, the biggest issue they see in their students is a lack of focus and discipline.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Dr M. Iqbal Saripan said this happens when there is no push in terms of interaction with their batchmates.

To counter this problem, he said university lecturers put in extra effort to keep the lines of communication open with their students.

“We have synchronous and asynchronous lectures, ” he said.

He added that technology has helped make this easier.

UPM currently offers seven distance learning courses as the majority of the students have hectic, full-time jobs.

There are also those who live far from campus, he added.

“This is the process of lifelong learning; giving students alternative routes to continue their formal education.”

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International Affairs) Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Marzuki Mustafa said ODL gives students the option of flexible, independent learning.

He said this method allows students to learn at their own convenience despite their geographical location.

UKM has over 200 open learning courses and six programmes that are conducted via distance learning.

But having such flexibility requires a hefty dose of discipline to stay the course, he added.

“The person needs to have strong determination and self-discipline to get through.

“Generally, we see these traits in mature students rather than new tertiary students, ” he added.

Prof Mohd Marzuki said lecturers, on the other hand, do not have much problem teaching ODL courses but find it harder to inculcate good values in their students.

Up north in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), its acting deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah said their ODL students, who are mostly working adults, struggle to juggle between the pressures of work and study.

Like his counterparts, he said that self discipline is needed for this different technique of teaching and learning.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic, however, this form of teaching and learning has become the new normal, ” he said.

He added that ODL gives people a second chance to get a degree “as it is never too late to study and acquire knowledge.”

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