Guidelines for learning support needs of incarcerated open distance learning students in a changing education landscape
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With the emergence of Technology-enhanced learning, distance education (DE) institutions increasingly print less course materials, partly due to the associated costs involved. DE institutions rely on online delivery to present courses and course resources. The delivery of online courses poses significant challenges to incarcerated students who have limited access to the internet as well as to other resources. Online courses compel students to submit their assignments via the internet; they also have to retrieve resources via the internet. This provides a challenge to incarcerated students owing to their limited internet access. The aim of the study is to describe, explain, and understand the issues regarding the learning support needs of incarcerated students within the higher education context of the Department of Correctional Services’ (DCS) correctional facilities. The research question which this study addressed was: How can the DCS manage the learning support needs of incarcerated students in a changing ODL landscape? As the study stemmed from an interpretivist paradigm, a qualitative research methodology was used. Purposeful sampling was used to select participants at a single learning hub of the DCS. The research participants comprised offenders who were post graduate students and who studied through open distance education, as well as the DCS staff members who were allocated to the learning needs of these students incarcerated at the Breede River Management Area in Worcester. The interview questions to the research participants were developed from a systematic literature review from which six themes emerged: (i) student characteristics, (ii) scale of capacity, (iii) institutional infrastructure, (iv) technological infrastructure, (v) management of learner support, and (vi) policy for digital support. The researcher and participants partook in focus group interviews. After recording and transcription, they were analysed in Atlas.ti™ for coding and categorising. Twenty-three codes emerged from the analysis as aspects of concern. The analysis used the literature aspects as a framework for coding and a seventh important aspect−student satisfaction−arose from the analysis as a pivotal aspect for success of incarcerated students. This finding relates to the literature, which also indicates the requirement of student satisfaction as important for student success when their learning needs are met. This study developed guidelines for the DCS to manage the learning support needs of incarcerated students within a changing ODL landscape which could be used while developing a policy for higher education needs of incarcerated students.
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