Different from regular forms of higher education, distance education mainly targets part-time adult learners. Such difficulties as the tension between employment and study, as well as the lack of exchanges with fellow students and teachers mean that the adult-learner-based learning support services are an essential and difficult issue in modern ODE. Since 1999, when OUC launched its Pilot Programme (the Pilot Programme for Reform on Talent Cultivation Mode and Open Education), the Institute of Open and Distance Education has conducted extensive surveys, studied learning support services, and published many reports, articles and books.
The Project, oriented towards distance education learners and adult learners, focuses on the features of learners (such as self-efficacy, attribution, learning strategy, and learning motivations), learning effectiveness, skills training, course design and development, prior learning assessment, learning community (on-line practice community), tutoring in ODE setting (including on-line tutoring), and the roles of ODE practitioners.
To examine the actual result of the Pilot Programme for Reform on Talent Cultivation Mode and Open Education, under the supervision of OUC, we conducted a survey on graduates from OUs throughout China from 2004 to 2006 (the Social Assessment Project). Orientation is toward two themes: one is personnel training mode in ODE, and the other is the educational quality. We conducted a sampling of 3-5% of the total population of graduates (300,000 people) from OUs by July 2004. The survey yielded 15,776 effective questionnaires from the graduates and 9,926 from the employers. We also interviewed over 5,000 graduates and 1,600 employers The results of the study are as follows:
The Pilot Programme for Reform on Talent Cultivation Mode and Open Education of OUC, a project approved by the Ministry of Education, was launched in April 1999 and completed and accepted in April 2007. It intends to explore and establish the basic framework, teaching mode, administrative mode and operative mechanism for the education of students who are to be conferred the associate degree and those associate-degree-holders who are to be conferred the bachelor's degree against the background of modern ODE. The aim is to develop qualified practice-oriented professionals. The Pilot Programme involves the target of training, reform of the teaching plan, course content and structure, development of the teacher team, course materials, on-line platform and infrastructure, reform of the teaching mode and administrative mode, as well as the establishment of the learning support services system and the quality assurance system.
Study on Assurance of Teaching Quality of China Open Universities, a National Education Sciences Planning Project of "the 10th Five-Year Plan" (No. FKB011381), was undertaken by OUC and the research findings were reviewed and accepted in June 2006. The sub-study entitled "Study on the Teaching Quality Assurance System of Open Universities" was launched in the second half of 2003 and was completed and accepted in January 2006.
The Empirical and Comparative Cost-Benefit Study on Distance Education of Open Universities is a National Education Sciences Planning Project of "the 10th Five-Year Plan". It was formally approved in 2006, and the research findings were reviewed and accepted in August 2008 with an excellent rating.
The Study on the Formation of Modern Distance Education Culture is a Ministry of Education Planning Project approved by the National Office for Education Sciences Planning at the end of 2006. Led by OUC, the Project is to be completed by the teachers and researchers from OUs throughout China. 114 of the 117 sub-projects were undertaken by 23 provincial OUs. Such collaboration has created good opportunities to focus and consolidate research at these universities.