Hidden Voices Of Adult Learners In Open Essay Example
Hidden Voices Of Adult Learners In Open Essay Example

Hidden Voices Of Adult Learners In Open Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3208 words)
  • Published: November 21, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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The focus of recent research in Malaysia has been on adult learners in open and distance learning (ODL) programs. The studies have mainly centered on students' ICT skills, learning strategies, and interconnectivity. However, there is a lack of research on the challenges faced by adult learners who are studying full-time or part-time. This article highlights the obstacles encountered by adult learners enrolled in the OUM academic program, including time management, family commitments, career obligations, and motivation. Additionally, it discusses the strategies used by these students to overcome these challenges.

Traditional distance education, which offered correspondence courses in the 60s and 70s, has been replaced by online distance learning and/or open and distance learning (ODL). Alongside Raffles College, Malaysia Correspondence College (MCC), Maktab Adabi, and Maktab Federal, USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia) was one of t


he first local universities to offer "off-campus studies" to working adults in 1971 (Yusof ; Syarifah, 1999). The number of adult learners in continuing education in Malaysia has been on the rise since mid-90s when more universities like UPSI (Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris), UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), UPM (Universiti Putra Malaysia), UiTM (Universiti Teknologi MARA) introduced distance education programs for adult learners. The number of adult learners increased from 17,756 in 1996 to 20,000 in the year 2000 (Mokhtar et. al, 2003). Once Open University Malaysia (OUM) was established in August 2000, the number of adult learners continued to increase due to technological advancements enabling greater access to online education courses, communication,and information exchange. OUM alone saw its student population grow from1000to12 ,000 within a span of just three years(Mansor ,2003).

Under the 8th Malaysian Plan (2001-2005), Malaysia has set a target o

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having 60,000 distance learners annually. This practice is already prevalent in Europe and America, where adults who work full-time and study part-time engage in lifelong learning. Although the concept of lifelong learning is not new in Malaysia, it is still at an early stage. Nevertheless, OUM has been established to provide working adults with more chances to pursue higher education. OUM adopts a blended approach to teaching and learning, enabling both face-to-face and virtual interactions between educators and students.

The demand for quality education is high due to the increasing number of adult learners. Quality teaching and learning are influenced by various factors, including administrative aspects, students' support services, learning materials, accessibility to online resources, evaluation procedures, teachers' qualifications, and contemporary methodological approaches. It is important to consider the problems faced by adult learners in order to improve student support services and performance in open and distance learning (ODL) institutions. Previous research has focused on ICT skills, learning strategies, and interconnectivity among adult learners in ODL programs but there is a lack of study on the challenges encountered by full-time or part-time adult students.

A study conducted at USM by Zuraidah & Ahmad (2002) examined the support needed by ODL students. This included access to computers and networking, technical help, training support, learning support through online materials and references as well as tutorial and counseling services. The study found that 58 percent of USM students enrolled in the ODL program faced difficulty accessing online materials while 40 percent reported inadequate campus computers. Additionally, 54 percent complained about time-consuming downloading of materials. However, it was noted that 40% of respondents indicated having access to online assistance whenever required.


problem of access is frequently reported in studies such as Khan (1996), Harasim et. al (1997), Lockwood (2001), and Mansor ; Ramli (2003). There are two possible solutions to overcome this issue. Firstly, increasing the number of computers in the computer labs either on campus or at the centers (Bates, 2000; Zuraidah ; Ahmad, 2002). Secondly, improving the networking system on campus, possibly by upgrading its bandwidth. A related study conducted by Daing, Abu Daud ; Bahaman (2002) examined students’ readiness and attitudes towards online programs at UNITAR (Universiti Tun Abdul Razak). Their findings revealed that 75 percent of these students, who were mostly young and had no work experience, exhibited moderate readiness for the online courses.

Around 86% of people reported having a positive attitude towards online learning. Currently, OUM is researching the readiness for e-learning in Malaysia. Despite this, there are overall studies on the challenges faced by adult learners in distance learning programs like the one offered by USM. Saw et. al., (1999) demonstrated strong evidence that students from East Malaysia were capable of adapting and adjusting to numerous changes during the initial phase of their distance learning programs.

According to Idrus et. al. 2001, female adult learners at USM undergo various new experiences upon entering the initial stage and encounter certain sacrifices as they transition into the role of a "student". These learners fulfill multiple roles including that of a mother, spouse, daughter, sister, member of the community, and teacher.

Atan et. al. (2003) found that adult learners who enrolled in the distance learning program experienced a notable decrease in the amount of time they spent on family and recreational activities. This study focused

on adult learners participating in distance learning programs offered by UiTM, UKM, and UM. Furthermore, the study revealed that these adult learners reported high levels of stress. This stress stemmed from factors such as insufficient time for sleep and family obligations, as well as difficulties in meeting course assignment deadlines and maintaining good health.

The main objective of this study is to identify and describe some of the problems that adult learners face in a continuing education program at Open University Malaysia (OUM). The study also examines the strategies they employ to overcome these problems. The problems are categorized into four areas: time management, family, career, and motivation.


The sample population for this study consists of 43 participants (39 females and 4 males) who enrolled in three courses at OUM.

The class usually took place for two hours, four times per semester. Students would attend lectures and take part in different activities during these sessions. Communication with lecturers outside of class was done through email, phone, and SMS. There was also an online forum monitored by the lecturer. Assignments were mostly submitted via email. All participants in the class were teachers with at least three years of experience working in schools. At the end of the semester, a survey form was distributed to 47 participants, but only 43 forms were returned.

As a result of the abundance of similar answers in open-ended questions, the data obtained was sorted and measured using frequency distribution to provide a broad overview.

This study included 43 participants who willingly took part. These participants are sponsored by the Malaysian government to obtain a bachelor's degree in teaching English as a second language at OUM and

possess either a teaching certificate or diploma. None of them currently teach at primary schools, but three are involved in secondary school education. Additionally, 39 teachers have more than five years of teaching experience.

42 out of the experienced teachers surveyed own a home computer, but only 39 have Internet access from home. The rest of the participants either access the Internet from cyber-cafes or at work. This indicates that the teachers are computer literate and likely do not face major difficulties with computing-related tasks. However, there are other problems that they encounter which require further understanding. Before analyzing these problems, it is important to examine why these teachers chose to pursue higher education at OUM. According to Supyan & Zaini (2002), a person's vision and philosophy of life determine their motivation for continuing education.

In essence, it is important for an individual worker to have a clear vision in life and establish their own goals for personal achievement. While external factors, such as work incentives and promotions, can also serve as motivation for individuals to pursue higher qualifications, these factors may be initially necessary for some individuals to enhance their career and job performance. In this study, we discovered different reasons why participants decided to enroll in the undergraduate program at OUM. The majority, comprising 25 participants (58%), stated that their goal was to upgrade and improve their knowledge and skills.

4 participants expressed a desire to advance in their profession through gaining qualifications, while 5 participants aimed for higher salaries and better incentives as a measure of value for their time and money. Additionally, 3 participants believed that obtaining a degree would make them better role

models for their children, and others were highly focused on achieving their dreams through education. Furthermore, 4 participants mentioned wanting to prove to their family members that they could still earn a degree despite their current age, resulting in a sense of self-satisfaction.

Overall, the majority of participants are enthusiastic about continuing their higher education. The survey allowed participants to express any problems they encountered and the strategies they employed to overcome them. Regarding time management, 42 out of 43 participants (97%) were dissatisfied. Nearly all (95%) cited insufficient time for school work, family responsibilities, household tasks, and completing class assignments.

In terms of school work/activities, participants faced difficulties meeting the increasing demands of school while also completing their course assignments. Some participants (45%) were involved in the ETeMS (English Teaching in Mathematics and Science) project, school administration, and reading, as well as assessing students' work. In terms of family time, the majority of participants (95%), who were working mothers, found it challenging to divide their time between their children and spouses. Their family time was shorter than before due to attending monthly tutorials and completing course assignments. Regarding household chores, only a small number of participants (10%) mentioned sharing the burden with their spouses and/or children. Interestingly, none of the participants had any domestic help at home. When it came to class assignments, 35 participants (81%) stated they didn't have enough time to go to the library for research and finding materials for their term papers.

Approximately 19% of the participants mentioned that they struggled to find suitable time to review their textbooks and complete their work. Consequently, they had to develop strategies to manage their time

effectively. Out of the group, 58% (25 participants) admitted to staying up late at night in order to study or finish their assignments for their OUM courses. Additionally, some individuals (23%) chose to wake up early in the morning to complete their class assignments before attending work. Others stated that they had to reduce their participation in routine activities such as going out, traveling, watching TV, reading magazines/story books, and shopping. Furthermore, a few participants began utilizing a planner to prioritize their daily activities and maintain discipline in accomplishing planned tasks.

To these students, time is extremely valuable and cannot be wasted. Two students stated that they felt their three and a half hour gap between tutorial sessions on tutorial days was a waste of time. These students had a morning tutorial and then an afternoon tutorial, leaving them with nothing to do in between except socialize with friends and discuss academic and non-academic topics at the cafeteria. Additionally, when it comes to family matters, many (25%) admitted to neglecting their children and families while studying or completing course assignments.

These students spent less time talking to and doing activities with their children. One female student who had a newborn girl found it harder to adjust her life as an adult learner at OUM. A male student who also had a newborn girl had to assist his wife with household chores and child care during the pre-natal period. Another female student mentioned struggling to balance taking care of the kids, house chores, and studies when her husband traveled more frequently for work this year. These students often had to prioritize and adjust their schedules to manage their

studies. They implemented various strategies, such as cooking less at home on weekdays, redefining household responsibilities by involving their children and husbands in doing chores, and relying on close relatives (siblings and parents) to care for the children.

Although some husbands may be supportive while others may not be during their wives' studies, 84% of the 35 participants stated that friends and colleagues at school were always there to provide help and support. Only one participant mentioned discussing with her family the "new lifestyle" they would have to adapt to during her time studying at OUM. Additionally, career development serves as an important motivator for the respondents to continue their studies. As mentioned before, these participants received financial support from the Ministry of Education Malaysia to pursue their undergraduate degree.

The participants in this study are teachers who are currently employed at schools and also pursuing courses at OUM. This dual commitment requires them to juggle their work responsibilities with their studies, which can be difficult. It is crucial for them to maintain their job while also earning a bachelor's degree. According to 88% of the 38 participants, tasks related to their school duties, such as preparing lesson materials, assessing student work, and participating in co-curricular activities, take up a significant amount of their time. Consequently, they struggle to find enough time to complete assignments for their courses. They worry that this could negatively affect not only their performance at school but also in their courses. Nonetheless, four participants successfully negotiated special arrangements with their school principals that allow them to manage both tasks without compromising either one.

Twenty participants (47%) stated that their friends had always been

helpful and cooperative, taking care of tasks assigned to them at school. In terms of motivation, most participants did not respond, making it difficult to determine if they were unsure about their own motivation or had no issues with it. However, 10 participants (23%) expressed their feelings about this aspect, with four of them mentioning having strong support from their families, spouses, and children.

Some participants were motivated by their friends and lecturers to continue their efforts in OUM courses, while others had to motivate themselves. It appears that extrinsic motivation plays a larger role than intrinsic motivation in the participants' study progression. This could be due to the fact that they are sponsored by the Ministry of Education for their higher level studies. If the participants were paying for their own education, the findings might have been different.

Typically, adults who independently pursue their studies are motivated by their own interest, courage, and determination. However, if these participants fail to use certain strategies to maintain their motivation throughout their academic program, they may not perform well in their courses. According to Supyan and Zaini (2002), an individual's own vision, considered as intrinsic motivation, should be a stronger source of motivation for adult learners to search for knowledge and skills and increase productivity in the workplace. Along with a clear vision, effective learning strategies are necessary to maintain good performance. Based on these findings, time management appears to be a common issue for OUM students. As they are simultaneously teaching, these studentteachers must effectively manage their time to meet course requirements.

The issue of student-teachers needing continuous support and advice throughout their academic program has been addressed during

the orientation week conducted by OUM at the start of the semester. It is possible that the first week's exposure to time management skills, study skills, and ICT skills may not be fully understood by these student-teachers. It is only after they experience real life as working adult students that they will realize the importance of these skills. The OUM administrator can consider providing counseling services to assist these student-teachers in overcoming their problems. Additionally, an online Special-Interest-Group (SIG) could be conducted to allow student-teachers to share their issues, advice, and learn from each other about managing their lives as adult students at OUM. Learning from one another's experiences in the SIG could better prepare adult learners for participating in the ODL program and achieving a balanced and fulfilling life while studying. Another implication is that these students should have avenues to express their complaints, suggestions, and recommendations, which would not only help improve student support services but also cater to their own needs and motivation.

Although online forums are available to address some of the issues faced by adult learners, it is also important to have face-to-face meetings with students. Additionally, providing additional self-directed learning materials for each course online, along with online library reference materials, can be helpful for these adult students who may have limited mobility and limited access to physical library resources.

It is clear that adult learners face more complex challenges compared to fresh school leavers who join a university program. These working individuals have multiple roles and responsibilities to fulfill at work, home, and in the community. Consequently, their performance as students may be affected to some extent. Further studies are

needed to better understand the social aspects of adult learners in this formal lifelong learning process within an online distance learning (ODL) environment. Exploring learners' vision, self-concept, self-esteem, motivation, and learning style that contribute to successful adult learners could provide insights into the issues discussed in this paper.

This paper discusses the need for further studies to delve deeper into the hidden voices and effectiveness of strategies in solving problems. While there may not be standard solutions, establishing basic strategies to minimize common problems is important. The paper also suggests studying the effectiveness of a one week orientation program for adult learners and explores the challenges faced by both students and lecturers in the ODL program. Ultimately, the paper seeks to answer how these challenges contribute to adult learners' problems.


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