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 study mainly encompasses the following areas: the definition of learning support services, the service providers, the target of services, the services offerings and services strategies; the criteria for support services; and the setup of the learning services system. We have compared and summarized the learning support services of the Open University of UK, the Open University of China, and other open universities around the world so that we could learn from.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of OUC, the University plans to publish a book series on distance education. The book Study on Distance Education: Learning Support and Strategies, most of the authors of which are researchers from the Institute of Open and Distance Education (the Institute), has been completed and will be published within the year. The book provides both the theories on distance learners and learning support services and a practical guide for practitioners concerned. It examines the current situation of China's ODE and analyzes the characteristics of learners. It proposes the basic framework of ODE learning support services, discusses all factors involved in providing such services, elaborates the support services provided to learners as well as the strategies of services provision based on the practice of China's distance education practice, especially that of OUs across the country, explains the guarantee mechanisms for the support services—the support for teachers and ODE institutions, and discusses the support for individualized learning. The experience of OUC and the on-line institutes attached to regular universities are examined as case studies. This book is recommended to all teachers and administrators in ODE.
When the Pilot Programme was still ongoing, researchers from the Institute undertook a number of projects, such as the Construction of OUC's Learning Center—A Case Study on the Law Major and the Establishing the Learning Support Services System for Modern ODE. Researchers from the local OUs in China also took part in these projects.
The Institute plans to further its studies on the learning support services for ODE in the following areas:
- The learning environment and characteristics of distance learners;
- The application of modern information technology in the provision of learning support services;
- The effectiveness of learning support services;
- The norms and assessment criteria of learning support services;
- The operational mechanism of learning support services;
- The monitoring of learning support services.
The Institute will strive to integrate research with the practical needs of teaching and administration so as to help OUs in China to improve their learning support services and realize sustainable development.