Distance Tutoring and Support of/for Adult´s Self-Directed Learning

Ms Riikka Pajunen, M.Ed. (Adult Education), Project Coordinator

Tampere University, Institute for Extension Studies, Finland

e-mail Riikka.Pajunen@uta.fi

Mr Mikko Ahonen, Planning Officer

Tampere University, Institute for Extension Studies, Finland

e-mail kamiah@uta.fi



Tutoring. What Is It? Why Is It So Important?

The main purpose of tutoring is to inspire, maintain and stimulate learning process. Simply it means that the maintask of tutoring is to give support in learning process. Tutoring can be allocated into three categories: face-to-face, distance and peer.

Inside these categories there is also a more detailed classification between group- and individual tutoring. In this paper we concentrate only on distance tutoring, in which the new modern technology plays big role. Technology can for example enable or hinder the interaction, which support learning.

Distance tutoring is guidance which is carried out through some material or equipment (Isonikkilä 1996, 102). The most essential challenges in distance tutoring are related to a problem how to build and maintain interaction which really support learning. How to build learning environment, which guarantees interaction that supports learning. How to make sure that tutor is continually available? When learner needs support during his or her learning process, support must be available quickly in order that learner can continue his or her process. Furthermore one problem is, that interaction between student and tutor can be seen too formal and because of that, conversation will not work efficiently. In order that distance tutoring works appropriately, planning work must have been done well advance and equipment must be high-quality. (Isonikkilä 1996, 103)

Letters and audio-conferencing are traditional equipment for distance tutoring. In addition to these more modern equipments are audiograchic education and computer based education. New extension in distance tutoring based computer based education is groupware program, in which independence on time and place increase. Though the interaction between student and tutor will still be only written, usage of both synchronous and asynchronous group discussion extends possibilities of tutoring forum. In video based learning situations learners are free concerning place but not time. Modern technical solutions enable different combinations of these equipment. In this developing process we still should remember that learner and his or her learning process is always the main issue. Thus the choice to be made is not "what technology", but "what kind of learning and teaching" we want to provide (Harry, Keegan, John 1996, 190).


Self-Directed Learning

Distance learning is mainly based on the idea of self-directed learner. Self-directed learning means learning process, in which learner her- or himself is important. Learner perceives the need for learning, directs his or her action toward learning goals, formulates own goals, choose learning resources and learning strategies and makes these working and finally evaluates her or his own achievement and learning. This definition (by Knowles) raises many questions. (Luosojärvi, Reponen, Vuohelainen, 1994, 20) For example, not every adult learner has readiness to be self-directed and not all adult learners want to be self-directed. These are things, which should be considered, when planning distance learning. Here the role of tutor is very important. Tutor must be sensible for these different readinesses and wishes.



Case: Lifelong Learning Centre in Jyväskylä-region

Kaakonseudun Oppimiskeskus (South-East Central Finland Lifelong Learning Centre) is a coalition of five municipalities. This learning centre consists of personnel know-how, (computer-supported) self-study rooms, classrooms and educational technology. In a way, the learning centre represents situation in typical Finnish rural communities. The mainstream of population in these small communities is getting older and young people are moving to bigger cities.

For community developers this is a demanding challenge: How to organise new type of education and activities, so that young people are willing to stay and maintain their activity? How teacher and tutor can support this process? It is also a challenge for adults to start lifelong learning process, that supports entrepreuners development in their activities.

In autumn 1996 the first distance study course for South East Central Finland was arranged in co-operation with Distance Education in Multimedia Networks -project. The Institute for Extension Studies at the University of Tampere (TYT) and Center for Information Technic at the University of Jyväskylä created the study program and guidance in co-operation with Mr Rauli Sorvari (South East Lifelong Learning Centre).

The main purpose for the course was to create a personal curriculum and self-development strategy for learners. Originally, the student group was very heterogeneous. For many learners the basic skills for learning were missing. And there was some time since the last learning experiences which were usually very negative. But there was one thing common for every single learner: they were interested in new (educational) technology and Internet. Somehow this was the driving force for all students. We, organisers, tried to take advantage of this hype by arranging a special internet-course for students and supporting computer-based learning material. Especially, learning to learn -study material, VerkkoTutor (NetTutor) was popular among students. This material was originally developed for Open University at the University of Tampere, Institute for Extension Studies. Videoconferencing-equipment was also in use, while discussing topics with distance teachers.

At this point, tutoring and human support was urgently needed. Our learners were not self-directed, so personal assistance and help was crucial. Unfortunately, the tutor for the course was not available at the beginning of the course. Only in middle of course he was ready to start personal guidance sessions. Due to lack of proper tutoring and nonprofessional interests, the drop-out was almost 50 percent.

Right now we are planning the second learning to learn -course for South East Central Finland Lifelong Learning Centre. This time the course is tightly connected to a professional training program (Telework Course for entrepreneurs). According to our experiences, learners are more committed and willing to learn, when they have a certain goal. To achieve this school the tutor must understand this common goal and prepare material and personal curriculum for each learner in advance.

The tutor must be provided right kind of tools for distance tutoring and communication. These tools could be mental, but also technical. Groupware-software or learning space in the network (internet) seems to be one solution for the course of South East Central Finland Lifelong Learning Cetre. Through this media tutor can give assistance while the learners are in distant locations working with traditional and electronical learning material. Though, traditionally the guidance material has been based on books and paper material. Even the tutoring process has taken place only literally. We try to keep in minds, that there is always need for on-site (face-to face) tutoring and personal guidance sessions.

How the tutor can interact with learners in our learning space? In our opinion, at first tutor could support discussions on certain topics and give credits for every comment (in dicussion forum). Also the discussion before and after videoteleteaching sessions should take place in this forum. Secondly, tutor might introduce teachers, schedules and new topics (in bulletin board). Thirdly, tutor should keep things fresh and attach interesting material (in file archive -department).

Our conclusion: the success of our distance education course is highly dependent on professional tutors and their right kind of preparation for the task.



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