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How family can support their distance student to achieve success

Many students face similar problems in terms of meeting all their work, family and study commitments. However, some students persist in their studies and some do not. Student support can be the crucial factor in ensuring their success.

The single most important source of support for students is from their partners, families and friends.[1] You and your student are a team. Your student may be doing the studying, but your support role is vital to their success.

How can you help?

Before study starts:

  • Discuss why the study is required. Successful study is a joint commitment. What are the benefits for the student, the family unit?
  • Discuss how many hours of study are involved: for reading, for audioconferences, for residential schools, for assignments & revision. Is the time involved realistic? How will the things normally done by the student in this time be achieved? Think in terms of chores & child care, sports, socialising, wider family & community commitments. Negotiate at the start what is study time and what is family time; but be prepared to be flexible.
  • What help will the student need for successful study? Think in terms of a warm place to study, quiet time for scheduled audio conferences, and additional assistance at assignment or exam time.
  • Schedule house maintenance and/or holidays around the study period to avoid frustration.
  • Organise a celebration at the end of it all. Partners deserve a reward too!

During the period of study:

  • Practical support such as: taking on child care & household tasks, checking assignments and keeping children occupied during audioconferences.
  • Emotional support: encouragement, showing an interest, reminding students why they are studying when things get tough (especially that vital first assignment), helping keep things in perspective (for example if your student receives a low grade for an assignment), recognition of the hurdles they face and celebration of minor successes along the way. Remind them to seek help from their tutor if this is what is needed.
  • Giving your partner time & space: time to study, relief from minor daily stresses, perhaps putting their needs first for this period of time.
Examples of comments from students about support from their partners:

"He helped me keep going when I was ready to give up" (student about her husband)

"We are in this husband cooks, cleans and does the laundry...and my 16 year old son helps with statistical analyses and Excel graphs" (wife about husband and children)[2]

[1] Simpson, Ormond. "Student Support Outside the Institution." In Supporting Students in Online, Open and Distance Learning, 120-25. London: Kogan Page, 2002.

[2] Castellucci, Marion. "Succeeding as a Distance Learner." In Game Plan for Distance Learning, 141-55. Lawrenceville, NJ: Peterson's, 2001.