Transforming distance learning in South Africa with emerging technologies: the academic view
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Within a context of rapid technological change and shifting market conditions, the South African education system is challenged with providing increased education opportunities without increased budgets. Many educational institutions are answering the challenge without increased budgets. Several educational institutions are answering the challenge by developing distance education programs through information technology, but in the case of one institution, strategic intentions involving information technology and distance learning have not been fulfilled. At its most basic level, distance education takes place when a teacher and student(s) are separated by physical distance. Technology, often in combination with face-to-face communication, can be used to bridge instructional gaps. It can be argued that modes of teaching and learning are changing, and we must redefine what is meant by the word "student". For example: what should we really call an adult involved in lifelong learning? The term "student" seems inappropriate. These types of programs can provide adults with a second chance at tertiary education, reach those disadvantaged by limited time, distance or physical disability, and update the knowledge base of workers at their places of employment. The aim of this research is to determine and understand the growing role of information technology in promoting quality assurance in higher education, and in expanding the education opportunities and workplace learning through the use of distance learning. This work investigates how distance learning can be improved by making use of IT with particular regard to the underprivileged, and the potential contribution to national transformation. This is summarized in the research question: "How can we improve distance learning in South Africa with emerging technologies?" A review of the literature, interviews with experts, and reviews of conference papers provided the principle inputs. The academic literatures were supplemented by studies of papers from the Department of Education and other non-academic sources. Based on the reading of the literature, and the views of experts, questionnaires and field experiments were designed and applied to a statistically significant population of respondents. A combination of statistical analysis and content analysis of open questions from the questionnaires lead to comparative evidence about different learning styles and different communities of learners, and the extent to which different learning styles are effective for the different kinds of learners.