Access to technology and learner preferences

S Kimani Kabonoki
University of Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana

This 2006 study was driven by a need to integrate emerging audio digital devices into the existing provision of audio instruction in a distance education diploma course at the University of Botswana. It aimed to find out the technologies accessible to distance learners as part of a continuing series of surveys.

The study involved 469 respondents and, while the findings were rather disappointing, they shed light on the research questions posed. First, contrary to expectations, learners did not have access to the newer, large-capacity digital audio players that are claimed by some public information media to be very popular. Second, access to computers (17.25%), and hence to the Internet (3.73%), had not changed significantly since the previous surveys in 1999 and 2001. However, access to cell phones (86.95%), CD (60.77%) and DVD (62.24%) had improved greatly, which indicates the possibility of the department of distance education using audio and video instruction on CD and DVD.

The learners indicated how they preferred to use audio in learning, viz. to complement and supplement the printed modules. However, those who used audio often (50.7%) gave as much attention to it as to the written modules because the audio instruction made it easier to understand the contents of the printed materials. In addition, the learners used the audio instruction as a resource when answering assignment questions. When respondents were asked if they would study with the computer if their audio instruction was made available on it, 29.2% responded in the affirmative and 15% were undecided. Also, when asked to make a choice between instruction on audiotape and CD, 58.2% preferred the latter, and 72.3% said that they would study with video if the audio instruction was transformed into video.

The paper concludes by stressing the importance of access when providing technology-based instruction, and emphasizes that the current literature which suggests a diminishing digital divide must not be taken as applying to all contexts. On the basis of the learners' responses in this study, it is clear that audio instruction, if well designed, has a place in distance education, and that learners may have their own preferences for the particular technologies they wish to use in their studies.