LEARNER ACADEMIC SUPPORT SERVICES AND RETENTION OF STUDENTS IN OPEN DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMMES: THE CASE OF SELECTED UNIVERSITIES IN KENYA
Purpose of the Study: The purpose of the study was to investigate the influence of learner academic support services on the retention of students in Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes at the selected Universities in Kenya. The hypothesis of the study was that learner academic support services do not have a significant influence on retention of learners in Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes at the selected Universities in Kenya.
Statement of the Problem: Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes in most of the universities in Kenya have low retention. Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes in Kenya continue to experience excessively high attrition rates as compared to face-to-face mode of learning. Open Distance Learning (ODL) programmes encounter significant issues with student retention, as they experience dropout rates that are 10% to 20% higher than traditional classroom settings. In fact, 40% to 80% of students enrolled in ODL programmes tend to leave before completing their courses. Specifically, in Kenyan universities, 15% of the overall student dropouts are from those enrolled in ODL programmes for a Bachelor of Education degree.
Methodology: The study was guided by the pragmatism paradigm and used a cross-sectional survey design. The target population for the study was 1990 learners and the sample comprised of 322 Open Distance Learning (ODL) students pursuing Bachelor of Education related degree programmes in the three selected universities as determined by the Krejcie and Morgan (1970) formula using stratified random sampling with proportional sample size allocation. A research questionnaire was used to collect data. The study used regression analysis to test the research hypothesis at 5% significance level.
Results: Results indicated that there was a statistically significant positive and strong relationship between learner academic support services and the retention of students in ODL programmes (r=0. 775; p< 0.05). The advisory support, mentorship services, tutorial services, course materials support, and feedback cumulatively accounted for 60.1% of the variance in retention of learners in ODL programmes (R2=0.601). The study established that course materials support (t=3.403, p<0.05), tutorial Services (t=7.727, p<0.05), and Mentorship Services (t=4.295, p<0.05) were the significant predictors of learner retention on ODL programmes while feedback (t=-1.327, p>0.05) and advisory support (t=0.902, p>0.05) were not significant predictors.
Conclusion: The study concludes that learner academic support services with respect to course materials, tutorial services and mentorship services have a significant influence on retention of learners in open and distance learning (ODL) programmes while feedback and advisory support have no significant influence.
Recommendations: The study recommends a routine revision of course materials to guarantee their relevance and alignment with the latest curriculum. It recommends the implementation of a policy framework that mandates continual training and refresher sessions for teaching staff, to ensure their competence in digital literacy. Furthermore, it recommends the establishment of a mentorship program aimed at providing students with academic, personal, and career guidance.
Keywords: Distance Education, Student Retention, Academic Support, Learner Engagement, Online Learning Programmes.
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