Quality issues regarding learner support for distance learners at the National University of Lesotho
The Institute of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS) of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) is mandated to widen access to educational opportunities through distance education. Distance education (DE) is a mode of delivery used as an option to provide education to those learners who have not had an opportunity to enroll for full-time conventional education. This mode of learning delivery separates learners from the teaching institution as well as deprives them of regular contact with their peers (KOUL & Bhatt 1989:12). Academic demands coupled with the isolation and anxiety experienced by distance learners may easily contribute to confusion, loneliness, and stress and sometimes to attrition (Nonyongo & Ngengebule 1998:11). It is therefore, imperative that distance learners be provided with relevant and adequate learner support to enable them to cope with the challenges of isolation and infrequent contact with their learning facilitators and fellow students. // Although there is an attempt to provide learner support services for distance learners at IEMS, there is neither policy nor procedure guiding the practice. Results of a preliminary study on the status of learner support services at IEMS revealed that the services were inadequate (Makhakhane 2007:2). One of the quality criteria for distance education is the provision of relevant learner support services (Welch and Reed 1998:8). Such services are lacking at IEMS although critically needed. On the basis of the above information, there was a concern to address the lack of an integrated and relevant learner support system at IEMS. // The main research question that the researcher chose to address is the following: What would improve the quality of distance learner support at IEMS? Sub-questions were designed in order to investigate this question. The following are the two that relate to this paper: 1. What is considered as best practices with regard to provision of quality learner support services for distance learners? 2. What is the current status and nature of learner support services offered at IEMS?