Creat ive Educati on
2012. Vol.3, Supplement, 47-51
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes ( DO I:10.4236/ce.2012.38b011
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The Learner Support System for Distance Education
Thanathnuth Chatpakkarattan a, Jintawee Khlaisang
Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Received 20 1 2
This s tudy on ‘The D evelopm ent of t he Interac tive E-Tutoria l System to Develop P robl em-Sol ving Abil-
ity and Self-Regulation for Undergraduate Students in Open University’ has the major purpose to learn
about the ‘Learner Sup port Syst em’. In this study, t he author examines and identifies the defini tions of the
terms ‘Learner Support System’ and ‘Tools and Implementation to the Learner Support System for Dis-
tance Education’ in order to find out what they are. The results from the study reveal that the Learner
Suppor t System for Di sta nc e Educ ati on s hould c over a ll t he step s a nd procedur es , b ef ore, dur ing a nd af ter
the learning. This enables learners or students to succeed in their learning. In addition, it is also discov-
ered that the Learner Support System in Distance Education must be integrated. This integration means
the uti lizat ion of a var iety of co mmunica tion tool s, both onl ine and offli ne, with t he main aim to p rovid e
to lea r ners t he chanc es to lear n by the msel ves and t o enab le t hem to s ucc eed in t heir l ear ning a nd t o appl y
the knowledge they lear n to their real lives in t he continuous manner through out their lives.
Key words: Dista nce Education; Learner Supp ort System; Onl ine-Offline Learner Support
Distance Educa ti on is a form of education management whereby
learners and teachers can interact to each other from distant
areas. Such interactions rely on the transfers of bodies of know-
ledge and experiences through various education media from
teachers or lecturers to students. These educational media in-
clude traditional media such as printed media, broadcast radio
and television; and new media which allow distance education
system through computer and internet device, both online and
offline, such as learning support computer systems, multimedia
CDs and E-learning system. Distance learning also relies on
both the traditional learning system or face-to-face o ne an d inn o-
vative learning system such as e-tutorial systems. This makes
learning available anywhere, anytime and for everyone. It is
thus the extension of education chances for everyone, not with-
standing his age or gender, to learn continuously throughout his
life (Holmberg, 1998; Keegan, 1990; Srisa-arn, 1991; Nanda,
1998; Ma l it h ong , 20 05; Sanksr i, 200 6)
Therefore, learners or students who rely on distance educa-
tion system, such as students of open universities, extremely
need to understand the system and learning routine and have
high levels of motivation and perseverance because they have
to learn by themselves through different education of media.
Many other research works that concern the management of
distance education system reveal that most problems discovered
related to the topic are learn ers’ feeling of isolation, the ab s ence
of personal feedback provision, technical problems concerning
computers and the lacking of social interactions. These prob-
lems resul t in learners’ can cellation th eir courses befor e fini sh-
ing them (Ufi/ learndirect and Kineo, 2007). Therefore, an im-
portant aspect other than the efficient and effective manage-
ment is the supportive system for l earners o f distance educat ion
system which can affect t he entire s yst em.
Learning Support System
Meaning of Learni ng Support System
Learner Support System is a system that facilitates learners
and students through out their courses. As Thorpe (2003) de-
fined, learner supports can be divided into 2 levels, namely, 1)
Institutional supports and 2) Subject supports.
1) Institutional Supports is the macro system that relates to
the entire education system. This macro system can be in the
form of a department or a set of facilities that facilitates stu-
dents who need supports when they face certain problems or
obst acles in their learning.
2) Subject supports are micro systems that improve individu-
al student’s competence before, during and after the class.
These micro systems enable each student to improve his per-
formances and efficiency. This is because the courses nowa-
days emphasize on creating active learners whilst teachers or
lecturers act as learning facilitators who encourage learners to
have activities and to learn together through electronics media
and new technologies. These joint activities and learning need
support systems that enable learners to effectively learn each
subject. Therefore, the Learner Support System is a system by
which learning tools and services are provided to learners in
order to facilitate them to join the learning system and to enable
them to h ave advancement and success in their learn ing (Simp-
son, 2004; Usun, 2004; Suw a nna tt ha c hot e , 20 09).
Learning Support Sy st em of Sukhothai
Thummathir at Open Univ ersity
The Learner Support System for Distance Education of Suk-
hothai Thummathirat Open University is comprised of institu-
tional and subject supports, the details of which are given in the
following paragraphs.
1) Institutional Support- This macro system includes many
relevant work units and facilities such as the Administrations
Office, the Educational Service Office, the Information Divi-
sion, the Library and the knowledge Center. The Administra-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
tion Office facilitates and supports students through several
actions such as to give to students the information of registra-
tions, the office has provided to students different registration
and enrollment channels such as postal services and counter
services. Concerning the examination arrangement, the office
holds examinations in several areas so that students can have
examinations even when that are in other provinces or countries
because they can have examinations in advance. This is the
Walk in Exam syste m whereby studen ts can have exa mina-
tions in advance when they are ready, and know the exam re-
sults as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Educational Service
Office also supports students’ learning by providing to then the
learning materials, documents and face to face and online
tuitions. Students who have questions on the document delivery
and broadcast schedules can contact this office for relevant
information. Another important task of this office is to provide
to students educational advice in the systematic manner – be-
fore/ during/ after the learning. Such advisory services enable
stud ents to have clear underst anding on the learn ing in distance
education system. In addition, there are also student clubs to
create the relationship between elder and younger students.
Elder students can give learning advice to younger students
throughout the courses. Another unit that supports students’
learning by linking the university to students is the Information
Center that students can contact through various channels that
students can contact through various channels such as tele-
phones (during work hours), cell phones, and Facebook website,
which are fast and accessible. There is also the One Stop
service where by students can easily obtain answer for their
quest ion. There services make the system more convenient.
2) Subject Supports-These supports are included in the course
of each subject that is opened as the e-learning course. These
supports are the systems that allow learners to discuss and ex-
change ideas with teachers and classmates on the discussion
board provided. In addition, learners can interact with each
other and ask teachers so me questio ns via personal e-mails. As
for each su bject, learners also have to learn by using o ther me-
dia such as radio broadcasting programmes, television broad-
casting p ro grammes and d ist ance ad di tion al e-tuitions. Learners,
however, still need more support systems that enable them to
have advancement an d success in their distance learnin g.
In conclusion, the distance education support system of
Sukhothai Thummathirat Open University is a big system or an
institutional one. To provide complete supports to learners, it is
essential for t he u ni versit y to e mph asize o n the small b y system
which covers the preparation of methods, instrument and learn-
ing resources, both human resources and other, in order to sup-
port the learning and to facilitate all learning activities. This
will enable distance education learners to succeed in their edu-
Development of Learner Support System for
Distance Education
The Development of the Learner Support System for Dis-
tance Education should focus on the development of both the
institutional and subject supports via several tactics. The major
focus is to satisfy and facilitate learners because learners or
students of this program are working adults. Thus their time is
limited. In addition, they do not wish to endure waiting for
some delayed things (Suwannatthachote, 2009). Example of the
development of the Learner Support System for Distance Edu-
cation as the institutional supports are:
1) To make and improve pr inted media th at are interesting;
2) To p resent clear learning directions to learners;
3) To establish the text book center as a learning source for
learner; and
4) To establish local learning centers in order to enable local
experts to have t o t each l earn ers in bot h th e face to face an d
telephone manners.
Subject Supports of the Learner Support System
As for the development of the Learner Support System for
Distance E du cati on th at u ses comp u ters and inter net as learn in g
chann els or emphasi zes on learn ing subject l evels, or th e micro
system, it is suggested that computers be used as communica-
tion means to fill the gaps of time and space, in the following
1) The reco rds of learn ers’ perfor mances and t he administr a-
tions, as well as the provision o f ad vi ce before the course;
2) The provision of the information on enrollment and regis-
3) The provision of the text books in the library and E
4) The review of lessons and the provision of learning advice
by teachers, advisors and learning supervisors;
5) The utilization of technologies such as telephones, radios,
soundtracks, audiovisual media and television programs that
support the communication;
6) The establishment of the support team to give services
through e - mails and telephones;
7) The establishment of a database that contains frequently
asked questions, as well as answers to such questions, syste-
matically sorted and filed;
8) The online communication media for educating the learn-
ers of specific subj ects, which solve practice problems;
9) The provision of tutors, both personal and subject tutors;
10) The support and motivation for learners to study online
such as the greetings and announcing tutors’ work hours for
learners t o contact, the check of learners ’ learnin g progress and
the evaluation of learners’ outcomes, the monitoring of learn-
ers’ achievement as set by goals, and revision of the plan and
the planning for learning process.
Case Study : Learner Support System of
Chulalongkorn University
The findings from research work on the Analysis and Evalua-
tion of Learner Support System for Distance Education, Chula-
longkorn University’ by Praweenya Suwannatthachote (2009)
reveal that the learner Support Systems for Distance Education
can be divided into 2 types, namely, the Online Learner Support
and the Offline Learner Support. It is also discovered that the
systems can be divided into 2 levels:
1. The support systems in the institutional context which in-
clud es
1) Pre course meeting, 2) internet registration and 3) utili-
zation of learning mana gement system; and
2. The support systems in the curriculum and program levels
which are divided into 3 phases, namely
1) Pre – course supports which include the primary meeting
and the training course of the utilization of learning manage-
ment systems,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
2) During course supports which include 1) online offline
communication channels, 2) various learning media, 3) lesson
review classes, 4) integration of learning activities to the curri-
culum, and 5) learning facilitation by teaching assistants and
cours e staff members; and
3) Post – cou rse supports such as announ cement of exam re-
sult announcement schedules, online registration learning coor-
dination and special events.
In conclusion, the development of the Learner Support Sys-
tem for Distance Education is essential to distance students
because this system supports and improves students’ learning
outcomes. The developer of the system needs to develop both
the big and small system in order to meet all needs of students.
Tools and Implement to the Learner Support
System for Distance Education
After obtaining the information on the development of the
Learner Support System, it is necessary to understand the
communication tools implemented to the system. Learners need
to be taught to use communication tools to exchange know-
ledge and to share ideas. In this section, the tools and the im-
plementation to the learner support system in the subject scale
(the micro system) will be explained. Na-Songkhla (2007) ca-
tegorized communication tools for supporting students’ learn-
ing with the time dimension into 2 types:
Synchrono us Too ls
1. Synchronous tools, which allow simultaneous communi-
cation, such as
1) Online Chat or Instant Relay Chat which allows multiple
students to communicate to each other at the same time. These
tools are good for critiquing or asking additional questions
during a real time lecture, running group discussions and
2) Instan t Message (IM) which emphasi zes on the tran sfer of
personal massages from senders to receivers. It is suitable for
information exchange, personal conferences, running virtual
work hour and running discussions;
3) Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which enables inte-
ractions in various contexts such as 3D picture messages, vir-
tual classroom ambience and simulate virtual situations. VLE
creates virtu al classro om ambien ce and enab les teachers to give
learning experiences to students.
Asynchronous Tools
1. Asynchronous tools, which allow communication at dif-
ferent time, such as
1) Wiki which is the use of web bases to create knowledge
hubs for learners to post and change knowledge and informa-
tion on web pages. This type of communication mean is the
online educational collaboration or the online encyclopedia.
Learner can n ote and work on the information on web – pages,
and monitor their woks posted on web p ages. Most wiki pag-
es enable information search, and provides link to other woks.
2) Webbl ogs are space s for learn ers to note th eir daily learn-
ing and all links to interesting topics. In general, a web–blog
belongs to a person; however, some webblogs allow multiple
writers to write their articles on them. The entries are in the
time order. The newly uploaded entry is placed on top. Web
blogs also allow readers to critique and tag the relevant topics.
Most webblogs have the Really Simple Syndication or Rish
Site Summar y (RSS) search ing syst em, which allo ws readers to
follow the entries that they have interacted with. This means
readers can have direct interactions with the web–blogs.
3) Forum/ Discussion Board/ Bulletin Board System – BBS,
which is a co mmunication tools that allo ws learners and teach-
ers to post messages, files and information on the spaces pro-
vided. Reader can interact with and download such information.
The topics of forums are sorted so that readers can read the
top ics that they are interested in.
These forums or boards enable teachers to follow the con-
versations among students. They are good tools for students to
post messages and deliver files, enabling students or members
to discuss the related topic and teacher to monitors students’
4) E Mails are tools that allow students and teachers to
send message s, emails and files to r eceiver’s’ per sonal spaces.
They support learners by enabling them to submit the assign-
ments and ask questions to teachers, or to make appointments
and co llaborate with the other p eople. They also al low teacher s
to communicate to students in nonemergency cases.
5) Listserv which mainly relies on emails. Listserv allows
people with the same interests to gather and exchange ideas,
ask for helps, ask and answer questions, provide and retrieve
information. Messages that a members posts will be copied and
forwarded to all the members. Teachers can set a Listserv that
all students can exchange information with each other and help
each ot her.
It can be concluded that the communication tools are both
synchronous and asynchronous ones which support students’
learning. Teachers should recognize the importance of these
communicat ion tools. In addition, technological experts need to
design these tools to appropriately support and fully improve
student s ’ l e a r ning.
These aforementioned communication tools were also men-
tioned in the work of Sabine Bachmayer et al (2010), in which
the Learner Support System was said to be divided into 2 parts,
namely, information providing part such as RSS, Streaming
video/ audio, Podcast such as the VoIP system, the video con-
ference system, IM, as well as tools that serve as well as tools
that serve as information resources and communication hubs
such as email, webblogs, wiki pages and social networks.
These two systems enable learners to have enough information
to make decisions. These two systems are interrelated to each
other as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Systems that Support Learners’ Decis ion through Co mmunication tools.
Strategic of Effective Learner Support System
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
After the communication tools that support learners in the
distance education are discussed, it is necessary to discuss the
procedure to effectively support learners. Ufi/ learndirect and
Kineo (2007) suggested 6 steps of effective learner support:
1) To identify the objectives of the learner supports included
in a p rogr am. Which agree with the aims of the program;
2) To understand the natures of learners because such know-
ledge enables the design of the learner supports that can directly
tackle to act ual problems of learn ers such as the experien ces in
distance learning through electronics system, the knowledge
and skills of computer and internet, the learning periods and the
difficulties of subjects;
3) To draw the conceptual framework for learner supports on
the based of the knowledge obtained from the steps 1 and 2
which enables the decision of the support tactics, from easy
level where students can rely on themselves to advan ced levels
where supports interactive communication are needed, such
as the search for answer fro m FA QS d atab ases, th e inqui ries fo r
information not found from the databases through emails or
online chats, personal assistance through telephone, the atten-
dance to operational conferences, class attendances, and per-
sonal advisory services.
4) To establish the networks of learner supporters which
consist of expert s o f several fiel d s th at can supp ort lear ned su ch
as teaching experts, subject experts, teachers, program manag-
ers, IT experts and specialists in several fields, who gather to-
gether in an online community;
5) To make action plans to support the learning and to iden-
tify resource origin, which consist of 1) the objectives of the
supports, 2) implementation channels, 3) resources hubs for
each channel, 4) time and budgets needed, and 5) possible risk;
6) To test and correct which is importance because some
supports are the managements of accidental events. Thus, it is
not practical to design the system that can cover all problems.
The test is the revision of all supports such as learning docu-
ments that might lead to certain questions from learners and
need revisions and additional contents. The examples of revi-
sion are 1) To analyze learner support channels that are most
used in order to improve them; 2) To analyze the most fre-
quently asked questions which cannot be answer with the in-
formation from documents, which should be added to FAQs
databases and additional learning units; and 3) If the support
system via telephone is not much used, there should be active
support to provision instead of such a passive system in order to
meet learner s ’ needs.
The Suggest ions for D e signing Online Learner
Support System
Apart from the aforementioned approach, Koroghlanian and
Brinkerhoff (2008) also suggested the suggestions for designing
online learning that supports learners as:
1) The design of online teaching needs to include the analysis
on works that are related to knowledge and skills of computer.
This analysis should also include knowledge and skill of the
utilization of the support system for each subject, which should
be regarded as fundament al knowledge that learners need.
2) There should also be revision courses, learning materials
and selflearning programs that provide to learners the know-
ledge on computer skills.
3) The university or academic institute that holds the courses
through a learning management system which is the online
learning through internet should provide immediate assistance
services and related documents, which should be included in
the system. This can be done by gathering most frequently
asked question s in or der to facilitate learners’ lear ning.
4) It is also necessary for academic institutes to provide to
learners the knowledge and skills of computer. In addition, they
need to regard the knowledge and skills of computer as the
fundamental knowledge that learners should have before enrol-
ling to the learning through internet pro gram. In case where the
learning through internet program requires advanced knowledge
and skills of computer, teacher should consider and set the fun-
damental knowledge that their students should have.
5) Concerning learners’ access to the internet learning pro-
gram, it is necessary for the academic institute to consider the
contexts of distance learners. This is because distance learners
who live outside urban areas might have problems with the
access to the internet broadband services. Thus, media that
require high band width might not be played. Therefore, teachers
and program planners should decide what media they should
use by using the information on their target audiences.
In conclusion, academic institutes should pay attentions to
the implementation of modern technologies to support learners
with clear directions. This can motivate learners to learn. In
addition, this system also improves learners’ efficiency and
effectiveness. Thus this learner support system is an important
mean that enables learners to use activities and tools to support
their o wn learnin g and to satis fy themselves. Learners can con-
trol th eir learning b y th emselves, in acco rdance to their person-
al capab ili ties, throu gh the Learn er S upp ort S ystem. Meanwhile,
teachers and classmates play the roles of their learning assis-
tants. Therefore, the development of the Learner Support Sys-
tem should focus on both the macro and micro systems in order
to cover them and link them together. This leads to the attain-
ment of the effective management system for the distance
learning in the future.
Acknowledgement s
I would like to express my appreciation for the advice and
guidan ce of Assist an t Professor Dr . Jin taw ee Khl ai sang, th e chair
person of the graduate committee. I also would like t o sho w m y
gratitu de to all the other members of the graduate committee for
their guidance and suggestions. Finally, I most gratefully ac-
knowledge my friends for all their supports throughout the
cours e of this research.
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