South African Rural University Students’ Experiences of Open Distance E-Learning Support


  • Zwane Siyabonga Alpha
  • Mudau Patience Kelebogile


rural students; open distance e- learning; learning management system; online support


South Africa, like many developing countries, has rural areas which suffer from a scarcity of resources and tools required to enable open-distance e-learning. Universal approaches often sideline these communities and the like. The aim of this empirical study was to look at the experiences of rural online students with a lens of openness (widening access) to comprehend their experiences of online support in the Open Distance e-Learning support context. This study followed a descriptive and qualitative case study, which employed individual interviews. The study involved (15) rural participants from University of South Africa. Findings revealed that there were many challenges associated with online learning for rural students. However, the use of cell phones by participants to access online materials and connect to online classes helped widen access to this group of students faced with scarcity of resources and infrastructure. Participants preferred to use cell phones because cell phones easily connect to the internet when compared to computers because cell phones require less bandwidth connection. Additionally, cell phones build a sense of community amongst the participants through the social media platform. Accordingly, the students were enthusiastic and were motivated about working online in the Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL) environment. Therefore, cell phones have a potential to widen access for developing under-resourced communities. Hence, the study emphasises the importance of tailored online support programmes for diverse group of students for ODeL to be considered equivalent to traditional learning. Universities must not presume the culture of use and access for students without background considerations.


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