Teacher- Learner Interactions in Distance Education: A Case of Two Malaysian Universities

Rozhan Mohammed IDRUS

One of the more noticeable developments in Malaysia over the last 30 years is the ability to deliver higher education programs and courses via distance mode. The development and evolution in Open and Distance Education (ODE) and innovations in information and communication technologies (ICT) have made access to knowledge and educational services in Malaysia more flexible as the delivery of distance programs now ranges from print to tutorial via video conferencing. Although ICT are affording distance teachers (DTs) extraordinary options and opportunities in the delivery of distance courses, realizing effective correspondence or communication and meaningful interactions appear a challenge to distance educators and learners alike. Effective distance learning dictates a shift towards a more “learner centered approach” to the teaching and learning transaction via the delivery mechanisms. This paper presents distance learners’ perspective on their learning by looking at teacher-learner linteractions at two institutions in Malaysia, namely Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM). Specifically, this paper examines the support mechanisms for participatory interaction, vis-à-vis the “learner centered approach” in an effort to enhance the educational transaction in ODE. This paper first reports on the findings of a qualitative research on a small group of DLs as they progress through their courses at UUM. 12 research respondents were interviewed as part of a close case study of their distance learning careers over a period of time at UUM. The preliminary findings provide evident that the learning support services provided by UUM as a DE provider was not fully facilitating learning interactions for DLs at the institution. Persistent UUM DLs frustrations and learning setbacks were observed due to the learners’ level of unpreparedness, attitude and learning strategies. Such evident, call this paper to look seriously at interaction, the use of technology and learning support in distance learning. The analysis and findings of the UUM study is then compared to the case of Universiti Sains Malaysia based on what has been published in the literature. A rigorous analysis and understanding of support services provided by USM to her DLs are made to further analyse and understand distance learning at UUM. The findings of the UUM case are compared with the support mechanism for participatory interactions between the DTs-DLs and the School of Distance Education (SDE) as well as the structure in place for a comprehensive communication (and voicing) channel in the distance education programs in USM. Finally, this paper identifies and explores several issues in anticipated systemic transition of learners, moving from the dichotomy of campus based face to face delivery to the emerging and popular ODE.