• Catherina Schenck University of the Western Cape
  • Assim Alpaslan University of South Africa
  • George Angelopulo University of South Africa



higher education, open distance learning, person-centred approach, social work, graduate attributes


The article describes the experiences of social work students enrolled at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the implications for Unisa as an Open Distance Learning (ODL) institution. An online Q-methodology survey and qualitative question was administered to 10 000 students enrolled for social work modules at Unisa, of which, 1,346 completed the survey and the qualitative question. This article focuses on the results of the qualitative data which were analysed according to Cresswell’s methodology. The themes that emerged indicated the role Unisa, as an ODL institution and the Department of Social Work, play in the lives of the students. The study confirms the importance of interacting and communicating with the students. It was revealed that the course content not only provides knowledge and skills about social work, but facilitates life-changing experiences and the development of the person.


Metrics Loading ...


Alpaslan, A.H., Angelopulo, G.C. and Schenck, C.J. (2013). “‘Satisfied and/or Dissatisfied’: The Experience-based Perceptions of Social Work Students about Studying at an Open and Distance Learning University†Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 49(3):410-423. DOI:

Angelopulo, G.C. (2009). “Q-methodology and the Measurement of Subjectivity in Corporate Brand Perception†South African Journal of Business Management 40(3):21-33. DOI:

Artino, A.R. (2008). “Motivational Beliefs and Perceptions of Instructional Quality: Predicting Satisfaction with Online Training†Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 24:260-270. DOI:

Asfaranjan, Y.S., Shirzad, F., Baradari F., Salimi, M. and Saleni, M. (2013). “Alleviating the Sense of Isolation and Alienation in the Virtual World: Socialiation in Distance Education†Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences 93:332-337. DOI:

Askeland, G.A. and M. Payne. (2007). “Distance Education and International Social Work Education†European Journal of Social Work 10(2):161-174. DOI:

Babbie, E. and Mouton, J. (2011). The Practice of Social Research Cape Town: Oxford University Press, Eleventh Edition.

Banks, A.C. and Faul, A.C. (2007). “Reduction of Face-to-Face Contact Hours in Foundation Research Courses: Impact on Students’ Knowledge Gained and Course Satisfaction†Social Work Education 26(8):780-793. DOI:

Baxter, J. (2012). “Who Am I and What Keeps Me Going? Profiling the Distance Learning Student in Higher Education†International Review and Research in Open and Distance Learning 3(4), php/irrodl/article/view/1283 (Accessed on 14/08/2013). DOI:

Bird, J. and Morgan, C. (2003). “Adults Contemplating University Study at a Distance: Issues, Themes and Concerns†International Review and Research on Open and Distance Learning 4(1), http://www.irrodl.org0index. php/irrodl/article/view/130/210 (Accessed on 16/08/2013). DOI:

Bogdan, R.C. and Bilken, S.K. (1982). Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Brennan, J. and David, M. (2010). “Teaching and Learning and the Student’s Experience in UK Higher Education†in Higher Education in Society: A Research Report Center for Higher Education Research and Innovation (CHERI), Society.pdf (Accessed on 12/08/2013).

Calhoun, C. (2006). “The University and Public Goodâ€, (Accessed on 31/07/2013).

Chetty, Y. (2012). “Graduateness and Employability in the Higher Education Sector: A Focus on the Literature†in Coetzee, M., Botha, J., Eccles, N., Holtzhausen, N. and Nienaber, H. Developing Student Graduateness and Employability: Issues, Provocations, Theory and Practical Application Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources, 5-24.

Christie, A. and Kruk, E. (1998). “Choosing to Become a Social Worker: Motives, Incentives, Concerns and Disincentives†Social Work Education 17(1):21-33. DOI:

Cochrane, A. and Williams, R. (2010). “The Role of Higher Education in Social and Cultural Transformation†in Higher Education and Society: A Research Report Centre for Higher Education Research Information (CHERI), Society.pdf (Accessed on 18/08/2012).

Collins, S. (2008). “Open and Distance Learning in Qualifying Social Work Education in Britain and the USA: Celebrating Diversity and Difference?†Social Work Education 27(4):422-439. DOI:

Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Method Approaches Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, Third Edition.

Du Plessis, C. (2011). Fourth Year Student Social Workers’ Experiences Relating to Their Social Work Practical Work at the Service Learning Centre of an Open Distance Learning University (Unpublished Master’s Dissertation) Unisa, Pretoria.

Dziopa, F. and Ahren, K. (2011). “A Systematic Literature Review of the Application of Q-techniques and its Methodology†Methodology 7(2):39-55. DOI:

Ellingsen, I.T., Størksen, I. and Stephens, P. (2010). “Q-Methodology in Social Work†International Journal in Social Research Methodology 13(5):395-409. DOI:

Gardener, P. (2001). Teaching and Learning in Multi Cultural Classrooms London: Fulton.

Garrison, R. (2000). “Theoretical Challenges for Distance Education in the 21st Century: A Shift from Structural to Transactional Issues†International Review and Research in Open and Distance Learning 1(1):1-17, (Accessed on 12/08/2013). DOI:

Grobler, H. and Schenck, R. (2010). Person-Centred Facilitation: Process, Theory and Practice Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

Grobler, H., Schenck, R. and Mbedzi, P. (2013). Person Centred Facilitation: Process, Theory and Practice Cape Town: Oxford.

Harry, K. (1999). Higher Education Open Distance Learning: Worldview of Distance Education and Open Learning London: Routledge.

Higgens, H. (2012). “Why Some Graduates Believe University was a Waste of Time†Higher Education Network, blog/2012/may/01/graduates-university-employability-waste-time (Accessed on 12/08/2013).

Kilfoil, W. (2008). Open and Distance Learning (ODL): Integrating the Elements of Fourth Generation Open and Distance Learning to Enhance Service and Support to Unisa Students Pretoria: Unisa.

Kuo, Y-C., Walker, A.E., Bellard, B.R. and Schroeder, E.E. (2013). “A Predicative Study of Student Satisfaction in Online Education Programmes†International Review on Research in Open and Distance Learning 14(1), (Accessed on 03/11/2013). DOI:

Mason, M. (2010). “Sample Size and Data Saturation in PhD Studies using Qualitative Interviews†Forum: Qualitative Social Research 11(3), (Accessed on 17/01/2013).

McAdams, D.P., Josselson, R. and Lieblich, A. (2006). Identity and Story: Create Self in Narrative Washingting, DC: American Psychology Association. DOI:

McBrien, B. (2008). “Evidence-based Care: Enhancing the Rigour of a Qualitative Study†British Journal of Nursing 17(20):1286-1289. DOI:

McPhail, B.A. (2004). “Setting the Record Straight: Social Work is Not a Female Orientated Profession†Social Work 49(2):323-326. DOI:

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). (2013). (Accessed on 02/11/2013).

Neuman, W.L. (1997). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches London: Allyn and Bacon.

Oliaro, L. and Trotter, C. (2010). “A Comparison of On-campus and Offcampus (or Distance) Social Work Education†Australian Social Work: 63(3):329-344. DOI:

Pease, B. (2011). “Men in Social Work: Challenging or Reproducing an Unequal Gender Regime?†Journal of Women and Social Work 26(4): 406-418. DOI:

Priebe, L.C., Ross, T.L. and Low, K.W. (2008) “Exploring the Role of Distance Education in Fostering Equitable University Access for First Generation Students: A Phenomological Survey†The International Review of Research in Open Distance Learning (IRRODL) 9(1), http://www.irrodl. org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/452/996 (Accessed on 12/10/2013). DOI:

Rogers, C. (1987). Client Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory London: Constable.

Schenck, R. (2009). “The Socio-economic Realities of the Social Work Students of the University of South Africa†Social Work 45(3):299-313. DOI:

Strydom, J.F. and Mentz, M. (2010). “Maximising Success in Higher Education: The Case for Student Engagement in South Africa†Acta Academica 42(1), 259-278.

Tait, A. (2003). “Reflections of Student Support in Open and Distance Learning†International Review in Research on Open Distance Learning (IRRODL) 4(1). DOI:

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL). (2002). CollectionDocuments/ODLIntro.pdf (Accessed on 13/08/2013).

The Free Dictionary, (Accessed on 13/08/2013).

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary (2009). 10999-educate.html (Accessed on 12/08/2013).

UNISA. HEMIS Figures. (2011). “Unisa Information and Analysis Portalâ€, (Accessed on 08/05/2012).

Van Exel, J. and De Graaf, G. (2005). “Q-Methodology: A Sneak Previewâ€. (Accessed on 12/06/2014).

Wade, B.L. (2009). Unisa Social Work Students’ Experiences of Trauma: An Exploratory Study from a Person-centred Perspective (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation) University of South Africa, Pretoria.




How to Cite

Schenck, Catherina, Assim Alpaslan, and George Angelopulo. 2014. “THE EXPERIENCES OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS STUDYING AT AN OPEN DISTANCE LEARNING INSTITUTION”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 26 (2):260-80.



Back issues