Feature: ODL Learner Attrition & The Limits Of The Tutor?s Role

By Dr Thirumeni T Subramaniam (thirumeni@oum.edu.my) and Prof Dr Latifah Abdol Latif (latifah@oum.edu.my)

ODL adult learners who discontinue their studies before completing their programmes often do so for a whole gamut of reasons, not all of which are necessarily and causally linked to the institution in which they study.

Dire financial diffi culties and inability to cope with overwhelming life, work and family responsibilities are but two factors that are very often beyond the control of both the learner and the university.

Apart from these, there are, of course, other causal factors which learners can realistically do something about in order to stay on course.

Poor time management fi gures as one of the most critical learning barriers for at-risk learners at OUM. Other barriers include work pressure, poor learning skills, poor command of the English language, and poor mathematical skills.

These are all barriers that have not reached the overwhelming proportions that usually leave learners with little choice but to drop out.

Given the foregoing, it is important to realise that not at-risk learners are equally prepared to tackle learning problems which are theoretically not impossible to surmount. As Moore (1986) underscores, there are fundamentally three kinds of working adult learners.

The first consists of self-directed learners who have decided that the teaching programmes of their institution meet their learning goals.

The second category refers to self-directed learners who are motivated by the need for certifi cation which can only be obtained by following the teaching programmes offered by the institution.

The third adult learner category refers to learners who are not self-directed but use the educational institution to satisfy their emotional needs for dependence.

It is this third category which requires our attention the most.

Cook (1993) states that the two common characteristics that have an impact on learning effi cacy and the overall classroom experience for adult learners are lifetime experiences and the self-directedness of the learner.

Learners who are unable to incorporate lifetime experiences into their studies and to direct their own learning are considered to be at risk. The slightest hurdle will weigh them down and eventually force them to leave the system.

In view of all this, several initiatives have been put in place to help these learners. (See Dr Santhi's piece for a big picture view).

To highlight but a few initiatives, in January 2009, the Centre for Student Management introduced Online Academic

Of course, the existence of such support will not automatically make learners self-directed.

This is where tutors, as a point of contact for OUM, play a crucial role in reaching out to their learners in order to help them to take advantage of the available support.

Tutors, as a point of contact for OUM, play a crucial role in reaching out to their learners.

Tutors can help their learners in this and other ways, as discussed in this issue of TCX.

Ultimately, however, there is only so much that tutors can do to support their learners, especially those in the at-risk category.

The learners themselves also need to work at surmounting the barriers they face in order to become self-directed and effective in setting goals for their learning and evaluating their learning performance.

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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