Feature: Learner Attrition & Retention At OUM: The Big Picture

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By Assoc Prof Dr Santhi Raghavan (santhi@oum.edu.my)


The nature of open and distance learning (ODL) tertiary education is such that there tends to be a relatively significant learner attrition rate in comparison to the conventional universities. This applies to all ODL universities across the globe, including OUM.

To redress the issue of learner attrition, the Centre for Student Management (CSM) works hand in hand with the Directors of all Learning Centres, as well as with Lead Tutors and Tutors across the country to carry out interventionist programmes.

CSM’s interventionist programmes address all categories of learners: new learners, at-risk learners, dormant learners, and all other learners.
For descriptive purposes, new learners are defined as first semester freshies. At-risk learners are those with a grade point average (GPA) or Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of less than 2.00.

Dormant learners are learners who have not re-registered for two or more consecutive semesters, while all other learners include the rest who have been with OUM for two or more semesters.
The following overviews some of CSM’s key initiatives:


Workshops

The ‘Effective Study Skills Workshop’ or Bengkel Kemahiran Belajar (BKB) is conducted at the beginning of every semester to help new learners navigate their learning journey with OUM, particularly in relation to effective open and distance learning (ODL) methods of learning.

The main contents of this workshop include goal-setting strategies, time management, using myVLE, strategies in dealing with standard challenges faced by adult learners, and so on. From September 2010, all learning centres will be using the latest version of the BKB called Smart Learn.

Workshops on ‘Effective Assignment Writing’ are also conducted in learning centres.

In addition, workshops are organised for OUM staff to improve their delivery of service to the learners. The Human Resource Group routinely conducts workshops for all staff managing learners to train them on the finer points of customer relationship and telephone etiquette.

Examinations

Some of the initiatives to improve learner retention involve tutors and Subject Matter Experts (SME) developing learning material such as i-Tutorials, FAQs and PowerPoint slides that promote active learning.

Tutors are aware that OUM learners are primarily adult learners with different learning needs, styles and motivations as compared to fresh school leavers. These learning materials aim to aid learners in their learning process and in performing well in university assessments.

Examination clinics covering high-risk courses are also conducted by tutors to familiarise learners with past year exam questions and answering techniques.
Regular monitoring of learners’ performance in both continuous assessment and final examination helps to track learners’ academic progress.

Discussion of Issues

Various channels are available for learners to discuss issues which concern them. For at-risk learners, face-to-face counselling sessions are conducted by tutors trained as counsellors. Counselling is also conducted via telephone.

Motivation and guidance given by these tutors often help the learners to persevere and take charge of their learning.

The Directors of Learning Centres across the country have been given the mandate to organise meetings every fortnight, especially with the new and at-risk learners, in order to engage them in quality discussion and provide additional support.

Any issues faced by these learners can be acted upon almost immediately at the learning centre level, or escalated to the Main Campus level if necessary.

For all other learners, the e-Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) plays an important role as the one-stop channel for learners to pose their queries, complaints, compliments and suggestions. The turnaround time for eCRM is 3 to 7 days.

OUM’s senior officials routinely visit the learning centres to engage the tutors and learners in dialogue sessions.
Surveys too are conducted at regular intervals to gauge learners’ and tutors’ level of satisfaction and needs. These findings usually help the university to make decisions about recommending further support services for learners.

Connectedness

To overcome the loneliness of ODL, various schemes have been put in place. For instance, the learning centres have been conducting corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities which serve to bring the learners together.

Tutors assist the learning centre Directors and Administrators to organise sporting events (such as marathon and bowling) and social activities like majlis berbuka puasa.

Networking among learners, seniors, tutors and learning centre administrators helps to make the learners feel a sense of belonging to the university and their peers.

Short message service (SMS) is also used to remind learners about registration and examination dates, to update them on the latest information and to wish them well for their examinations.

Conclusion

A combination of the interventionist strategies overviewed above aims to retain learners within the system and keep them on track in their studies.

Being able to care for learners and to help clear the path before them so that they may reach the finish line (graduation) would be an achievement in itself for the University in developing the country’s human capital.

Clearly, for learners to reach the finish line would also be their high point of achievement, one which they would, after graduation, look back upon with the realisation that no less than a whole-university support effort is necessary if learners are to acquire the competencies necessary in an increasingly competitive world.

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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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