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The obstacles faced by distance learning students in achieving their autonomy. The case of the Hellenic Open University

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MARIA PANAGIOTIS PANAGIOTOPOULOU (https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7571-2713), EYAGELIA NIKOLAOS MANOUSOU (https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9900-1625)



The autonomy of the students refers to the control that the student has in the learning process, to decide on the content, the goals and the way of learning and is connected with the concepts of self-direction and self-regulation. The concept of autonomy presupposes the development of a psychological relationship with the process and the content of the learning act, while the autonomous student is able to make decisions, to distance himself but also to reflect critically. Autonomy is related to the notion of personal responsibility that the learner assumes in his learning process, while two dimensions are distinguished. The first is autonomous learning, in which the learner assumes responsibility for the design, organization and evaluation of the educational process, which concerns its external characteristics. The second is the autonomous student, which refers to the internal characteristics of the learner. However, an important factor for the autonomy of the students is considered to be the context in which the educational process takes place, ie when the general socio-political and learning context encourages the learners to take responsibility for their learning, then their autonomy is promoted.

In the context of distance education, students are at a distance from their teachers, their classmates and the institution that provides education, but they are called to meet the requirements of the study program they choose. And while the concept of autonomy is intertwined with the method of distance education, the factors that hinder its realization have not been sufficiently explored. This empirical research, therefore, comes to fill the gap in the literature on the obstacles that students themselves face in the realization of autonomy.

This paper explores the barriers faced by distance education students in achieving their autonomy. In particular, it focuses on exploring the obstacles that students face with regard to autonomy in distance education and the factors that contribute to removing the obstacles to student autonomy in distance education. The quantitative approach was chosen and the tool of our research was the online questionnaire, which was completed by 215 research participants, postgraduate and undergraduate students of the Hellenic Open University. The selection of the sample was random sampling as the questionnaire was published on a social networking page (facebook) in specific groups formed by the Hellenic Open University students and the participants chose to answer and complete the questionnaire. The empirical research took place in March - April 2019.

The questionnaire included two axes. The first axis concerned demographic data. The second axis included twenty-one (21) questions that answered the research questions. Seventeen (17) of the questions were closed-ended, graded Likert scale, one (1) question with answer options, while three (3) questions were open-ended. Open-ended questions were included in order for participants to express their views on the obstacles they face, and to enrich the data from the closed-ended questions.

For the analysis of the data collected from the closed-ended questions of the questionnaire, the statistical program SPSS and the descriptive statistics were used. Regarding the data of the open-ended questions, after their inclusion in broader categories, the next step was to codify the conversion of the data from nominal to numerical. In order to identify any differences in the answers of the participants, depending on the gender and the level of studies, correlations were used.

The theoretical framework of the present study is closely related to the empirical research carried out. Obstacles to the autonomy of distance learning students identified in the theoretical part are confirmed by the empirical research, with the difference that the empirical research has shown that students' personal characteristics as well as the "distance" factor do not constitute a significant obstacle to the realization of their autonomy.

However, the empirical research also revealed several factors that were not identified in the bibliographic review as barriers to student autonomy, such as inadequate administrative organization, financial factors, the small number of group meetings, the lack of different types of papers, exams based on memorization and exams with books closed. It is also worth noting that while the majority of students consider that they have developed skills in order to be autonomous, they agree that a preparatory course that would prepare them for the requirements of distance education would be very helpful.

 The analysis and discussion of the results highlighted the prominent role of the teacher in distance education, as the lack of support for students can impede their autonomy, however, the teacher has the potential to contribute to its realization by guiding and encouraging students. The multidimensional role of the teacher in distance education also emerges from our research, as described in the theoretical part of our work, since the participants expressed the need for teachers combining a number of characteristics in order to promote their autonomy.

Another important finding of the research is that students feel their personal characteristics and personal abilities can help them realize their autonomy. In line with the bibliographic review, the factors that are an obstacle to the autonomy of the students of distance education, as well as the factors contributing to the removal of these obstacles, are related both to the students themselves and to the educational process.

As for the factors that contribute to the removal of barriers to the autonomy of distance learning students, they coincide with the factors that have a positive effect on the realization of autonomy and have been identified in the theoretical framework of our work. The most important factor is the personal characteristics of the students themselves and their own personal effort. Following, the support, guidance from the teacher on a psychological and practical level and communication with him. Also very important factors are the existence of appropriate educational material and the conduct of group meetings, which students ask to be more frequent.

The need for a digital learning framework to promote student autonomy, as found in the theoretical framework, is confirmed by the empirical research, as well as the need for electronic group meetings and the use of electronic libraries, access to specialized digital material, and easier access to the Hellenic Open University platforms.

A very important factor in removing the barriers to student autonomy as it emerged from the empirical research is more flexible schedules concerning the delivery of papers, while access to educational material and a better administrative organization are also considered important.

Regarding the correlation of the curriculum with the factors that constitute an obstacle to autonomy, the majority of postgraduate and undergraduate students agree with some differentiation regarding the factors "comments of the teacher on written work", "educational material", "psychological support from the teacher ”and“ lack of psychological support from the teacher” while gender did not appear to have any particular effect on the factors that impede students’ autonomy

Λέξεις κλειδιά

distance education; autonomy; students; obstacles

Πλήρες Κείμενο:



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