Investigating the role of non-academic support systems of students completing a Master’s Degree in Open, Distance and e-Learning
This paper investigates the role played by the non-academic support systems that students can access during their master’s journey within the Open, Distance and e-Learning context. In defining support, this paper draws on the theory of connectivism, which portrays relationships as a network with various connecting nodes. Traditionally, support for master’s students takes the form of academic assistance that is channelled primarily through the supervision relationship. The relationship between student and supervisor in Open, Distance and e-Learning represents the main bridge between student and institution. As such, the process of supervision has evolved into a critical component of student success at the level of master’s studies. The theory of connectivism challenges this rigid view of unidirectional learning in a supervision relationship or programme. The connectivist approach acknowledges that learning and knowledge rest within a diversity of opinion. Drawing from a cohort of postgraduate students at a South African distance‑education institution, this paper measures the learning network of each student. In total, 37 students and graduates responded to an online survey aimed at investigating the networks that students have created during their master’s studies. The instrument consisted of 34 items that covered aspects such as the cognitive, affective and systemic support provided by supervisors as well as external sources of support. While the supervision relationship remains the core process during postgraduate studies, meeting the needs of postgraduate students extends well beyond the capabilities of most individual supervisors. Results in this study demonstrated that students have a range of needs for the successful completion of their qualifications. Respondents reportedly had the necessary social and financial capital to support these needs outside the supervision relationships; however, not all students do. This study, therefore, provided a student‑support framework that may identify the support needs and support sources to improve postgraduate student support.