What are the Non-Academic Needs of Distance Learners?
Distance learning is a fast-growing method of delivery in higher education. The literature about distance learning is rich with information about learning and course design. However, there is little information about the non-academic support services that universities can and should provide for distance students. This study addresses that gap in the literature by exploring the non-academic needs of distance learners. Students and faculty members involved with distance learning at four-year institutions in the Fall of 2000 were asked to identify what, if any, needs distance learners have outside the classroom. Specifically, an original web-based survey was designed to identify 34 possible non-academic needs. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of those needs in the success of distance learners, the accessibility of services to meet those needs, and when the needs present themselves to distance learners. Findings indicate that the non-academic needs of distance learners are very similar to those of campus-based students. The most important needs are basic: information about the institution and program, a way to purchase books, a contact person at the institution, and academic advising. More traditional developmental needs such as leadership development, experience with diversity, and career services were important to respondents pursuing Bachelors degrees. Services to meet the needs are currently not easily accessible. Most needs present themselves throughout a student's academic career. Institutions involved with distance learning should consider addressing basic needs first. If an institution targets a large number of students pursuing Bachelor degrees at a distance, they might also add services to meet more traditional developmental needs.