Much research in face-to-face contexts outlines the importance of early adjustment on students’ higher education experiences. However, few studies have replicated this research in distance learning contexts to unpack the early multifaceted adjustments associated with studying in absence of a physical campus. This is particularly needed from a Global South perspective, where countries like South Africa have become regional hubs for distance learners. To explore distance learners’ adjustment experiences, this study analysed results from a Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) with 320 distance learners at the University of South Africa, mixed with qualitative thematic analysis of open-ended questions. The results outlined key factors that impact distance learning experiences for students in South Africa, including demographic variables, class, language, and access to resources. These findings, compared with similar work in face-to-face contexts, suggest areas in need of additional support from distance education providers in South Africa and beyond.
- distance education,
- higher education,
- student adjustment,
- South Africa
Download the article in PDF to read it.
- Altbach, P. G., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. E. (2009). Trends in global higher education: Tracking an academic revolution. Paris, France: UNESCO.
- Badat, S. (2005). South Africa: Distance higher education policies for access, social equity, quality, and social and economic responsiveness in a context of the diversity of provision. Distance Education, 26(2), 183-204. doi: 10.1080/01587910500168843
- Baker, R. W., & Siryk, B. (1999). SACQ student adaptation to college questionnaire. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
- Baxter, J. A. (2012). Who am I and what keeps me going? Profiling the distance learning student in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(4), 107-129. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v13i4.1283
- Bozalek, V., & Ng'ambi, D. (2015). The context of learning with technology. In W. R. Kilfoil (Ed.), A contextualised view of learning with technology in higher education. Pretoria, South Africa: University of South Africa.
- Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
- Brown, M., Hughes, H., Keppell, M., Hard, N., & Smith, L. (2015). Stories from students in their first semester of distance learning. The International Review of Resrach in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(4). doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v16i4.1647
- Credé, M., & Niehorster, S. (2012). Adjustment to college as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire: A quantitative review of its structure and relationships with correlates and consequences. Educational Psychology Review, 24(1), 133-165. doi: 10.1007/s10648-011-9184-5
- Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: SAGE.
- Daniels, V. (2017). The effects of family structure and autonomy-supportive parenting on the adjustment of first year university students (Doctoral thesis, University of the Western Cape). Retrieved from http://etd.uwc.ac.za/xmlui/handle/11394/5623
- Davidowitz, B., & Schreiber, B. (2008). Facilitating adjustment to higher education: Towards enhancing academic functioning in an academic development programme. South African Journal of Higher Education, 22(1), 191-206.
- Department of Higher Education and Training. (2012). South African higher education open data. Retrieved from https://www.chet.org.za/data/sahe-open-data
- Department of Higher Education and Training. (2014). Policy for the provision of distance education in South African universities in the context of an integrated post-school system. Retrieved from http://www.saide.org.za/sites/default/files/37811_gon535.pdf
- Everitt, B. S., Landau, S., Leese, M., & Stahl, D. (2011). Cluster analysis (5th ed.). West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley.
- Faragher, L., & Huijser, H. (2014). Exploring evidence of higher order thinking skills in the writing of first year undergraduates. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 5(2), 33-44.
- Field, A. (2013). Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS Statistics (4th ed.). London: SAGE.
- Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
- Halabi, A. K., Essop, A., Carmichael, T., & Steyn, B. (2014). Preliminary evidence of a relationship between the use of online learning and academic performance in a South African first-year university accounting course. Africa Education Review, 11(2), 164-182. doi: 10.1080/18146627.2014.927148
- Jordaan, J. (2016). Exploring first-year students' demands from the perspectives of student support structures: A world café study (Doctoral thesis, North-West University). Retrieved from https://repository.nwu.ac.za/handle/10394/25547
- Kahu, E. R., & Nelson, K. (2018). Student engagement in the educational interface: Understanding the mechanisms of student success. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(1), 58-71. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2017.1344197
- Leibowitz, B., Van der Merwe, A., & Van Schalkwyk, S. (2009). Focus on first year success: Perspectives emerging from South Africa and beyond. African Sun Media. doi: 10.18820/9781920338220/00
- Lekena, L. L., & Bayaga, A. (2018). Trend analysis of first year student experience in university. South African Journal of Higher Education, 32(2), 157-175. doi: 10.20853/32-2-1934
- Mahlangu, T. P., & Fraser, W. J. (2017). The academic experiences of grade 12 top achievers in maintaining excellence in first-year university programmes. South African Journal of Higher Education, 31(1), 104-118. doi: 10.20853/31-1-812
- McGhie, V. (2017). Entering university studies: Identifying enabling factors for a successful transition from school to university. Higher Education, 73(3), 407-422. doi: 10.1007/s10734-016-0100-2
- McKay, T. M. (2016). Do tutors matter? Assessing the impact of tutors on first-year academic performance at a South African university. Journal of Student Affairs in Africa, 4(1), 53-64. doi: 10.14426/jsaa.v4i1.144
- Meier, C. (2007). Enhancing intercultural understanding using e-learning strategies. South African Journal of Education, 27(4), 655-671.
- Mittelmeier, J., Long, D., Cin, F. M., Reedy, K., Gunter, A., Raghuram, P., & Rienties, B. (2018). Learning design in diverse institutional and cultural contexts: Suggestions from a participatory workshop with higher education professionals in Africa. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 33(3), 250-266. doi: 10.1080/02680513.2018.1486185
- Mittelmeier, J., Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D., & Whitelock, D. (2018). Overcoming cross-cultural group work tensions: Mixed student perspectives on the role of social relationships. Higher Education, 75(1), 149-166. doi: 10.1007/s10734-017-0131-3
- Nulty, D. D. (2008). The adequacy of response rates to online and paper surveys: What can be done? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(3), 301-314. doi: 10.1080/02602930701293231
- Olivier, B. (2016). The impact of contact sessions and discussion forums on the academic performance of open distance learning students. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(6). doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v17i6.2493
- Papageorgiou, E., & Callaghan, C. W. (2018). Personality and adjustment in South African higher education accounting studies. South African Journal of Accounting Research, 32(2-3), 189-204. doi: 10.1080/10291954.2018.1442649
- Petersen, I-h., Louw, J., Dumont, K., & Malope, N. (2009). Adjustment to university and academic performance among disadvantaged students in South Africa. Educational Psychology, 29(1), 99-115. doi: 10.1080/01443410802521066
- Rienties, B., Beausaert, S., Grohnert, T., Niemantsverdriet, S., & Kommers, P. (2012). Understanding academic performance of international students: The role of ethnicity, academic and social integration. Higher Education, 63(6), 685-700. doi: 10.1007/s10734-011-9468-1
- Sennett, J., Finchilescu, G., Gibson, K., & Strauss, R. (2003). Adjustment of black students at a historically white South African university. Educational Psychology, 23(1), 107-116. doi: 10.1080/01443410303219
- Sommer, M., & Dumont, K. (2011). Psychosocial factors predicting academic performance of students at a historically disadvantaged university. South African Journal of Psychology, 41(3), 386-395.
- Spady, W. G. (1970). Dropouts from higher education: An interdisciplinary review and synthesis. Interchange, 1(1), 64-85. doi: 10.1007/bf02214313
- Statistics South Africa. (2012). Census 2011: Census in brief. Retrieved from https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P03014/P030142011.pdf
- Subotzky, G., & Prinsloo, P. (2011). Turning the tide: A socio-critical model and framework for improving student success in open distance learning at the University of South Africa. Distance Education, 32(2), 177-193. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2011.584846
- Swart, A. J. (2015). Student usage of a learning management system at an open distance learning institute: A case study in electrical engineering. International Journal of Electrical Engineering Education, 52(2), 142-154. doi: 10.1177/0020720915575925
- Tessmer, M., & Richey, R. C. (1997). The role of context in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(2), 85-115. doi: 10.1007/bf02299526
- Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89-125.
- Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously. Review of Higher Education, 21(2), 167-177.
- Upcraft, M. L., & Gardner, J. N. (1999). The freshman year experience. Helping students survive and succeed in college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Wilcox, P., Winn, S., & Fyvie-Gauld, M. (2005). 'It was nothing to do with the university, it was just the people': The role of social support in the first-year experience of higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(6), 707-722. doi: 10.1080/03075070500340036