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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Cultural Effects on Learning Styles of African Learners in Distance Education

Mpine Qakisa.

The sociocultural environment in which learners grew up contributes considerably to their approach and performance in their academic arena. Most of the African learners who are enrolled in distance education institutions in South Africa come from inferior schooling systems characterised by poorly trained teachers who emphasised rote leaning without comprehension. Distance education has been seen by many students as the only feasible approach to meeting their need of acquiring education. Although distance education institutions have provided access to education and training to those people who did not have opportunities to study, they have not been successful in enabling students to perform to their maximum potential. These learners do not see how the chunk of knowledge that they are learning relates to their daily lives. As a result, they drop out of the university or take longer to finish their courses.

It is on this basis that the commission on distance education concluded that the government should question institutions that give access but fail to provide forms of education that enable students to capitalise on their educational opportunity (International Commission into Distance Education, 1995, pxxii). The commission found that the quality of education is based on "outmoded and very limited conception of what distance education is and how it should be managed and provided (ibid., p.xxii). This is because most South African educational institutions have been institution centred rather than learner centred. There is almost a complete absence of research in understanding how learners from different cultures interact and interpret information for the purposes of learning in distance education.

Although there is a clear correlation between learners' performance in their academic work and their learning styles as well as their attitude towards education, there has been very little research done in the area of learning styles. Learning cannot occur in the absence of a learner (recipient) who has to attach meaning and interpret what the teacher (communicator) is saying. What is learned is determined by a frame of reference of an individual. This includes the learner's background, interests and needs unique to individuals who share historical experiences, values and concepts from a particular culture. It is therefore important to look at the characteristics of our learners in order to develop a curriculum that is relevant and addresses their needs. Our approach to distance education teaching has been what we want a learner to know rather than what a learner will do and achieve. The underlying assumption is that teaching is the same for all learners.

It is in this regard that this paper will focus on how African learners acquire knowledge; their learning styles; how these styles affect their academic performance in distance education; and finally, how the different learning support components can be used to influence the learning and teaching in distance education instructional material.


Mpine Qakisa  (South Africa)
Lecturer in Communication
Department of Communication Faculty of Social Sciences
University of South Africa

Didactics of communications, Learning styles and learner support in distance education, health communication, government communication, Mpine Qakisa holds a diploma in journalism from Kitwe, Zambia. She went to the United States of America where she graduated at Hope College with a BA degree in English and Communication (cum laude). In 1991, she graduated with a MA in journalism from the University of Michigan. She worked as a journalist for The Star Newspaper. She also worked at the Development Bank of Southern Africa as a publications editor before joining a television production company as a director. She joined UNISA in 1995 as a lecturer in the communications department. She is also a working committee member in the Institute for Gender Studies. Although she has extensive background in media, her interests are in distance education and learner support. She is a member and a vice chair of the Standard Generating Bodies (SGB) for Government Communicators and Communication studies respectively. She has published several articles on media representation of women who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. She is currently doing research on media messages and HIV/AIDS. She is also developing a course on Sexuality education and HIV/AIDS training in schools.

  • Culture
  • Learning styles
  • Distance education

(30 min Conference Paper, English)