Supporting the Wellness of Students in Open and Distance Learning

Beryl Y Y Wong and Billy T M Wong
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

Among the key areas of student support, wellness has been regarded as crucial. While student services for wellness are commonplace in face-to-face teaching institutions, open and distance learning (ODL) students have far fewer opportunities to access such services because of the constraints in the ODL context, and the services for conventional institutions do not suit their needs. This paper presents an exploratory study on the needs of ODL students for support related to wellness. The study was built on the premise that the choice and focus of service provision should be guided by relevant principles and a thorough understanding of students’ needs. It adopts a six-dimensional framework, covering the occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional dimensions of wellness. An online survey and three focus group interviews were conducted, with 133 and 16 participants, respectively. The findings revealed that career development was most important of the wellness dimensions for the students. A diverse range of student support, specific to the ODL context, was suggested by the participants, such as the development of an enhanced social network to alleviate their feelings of alienation and isolation; an online channel for the delivery of information on student affairs; academic advisory services; extended hours for facilities and student services; and effective communication among the Student Affairs Office, students, alumni and academic staff. The results, which contribute to the field as empirical evidence, highlight that wellness support should be seen as an integral component of higher education regardless of the mode of education delivery.