The State of Distance Education in South Africa: an Analysis of Trends, Research Areas and Publication Vehicles

Jennifer Roberts
University of South Africa, South Africa

Ignatius Gous
University of South Africa, South Africa


Open distance learning research from South African authors represents only a small percentage of the body of distance education research that has been carried out. South Africa is home to one of the top ten mega distance education universities in the world and a recent South African government paper mandated that all higher education institutions consider implementing distance education units in addition to their face to face teaching. This paper investigates the state of distance learning research emanating from South African universities and categorises each paper into one of the broad research areas proposed by Zawacki-Richter in his 2009 study. In addition it provides an analysis of the South African distance education research trends and maps these against the trends that were identified in an article in the journal Distance Education by Zawacki-Richter and Naidu in 2016. Data for this research was obtained from the Scopus database of academic literature as well as from SABINET – the South African Bibliographic and Information Network. The classification of the research framework of Zawacki-Richter was analysed through the use of Atlas ti which provided a quantitative content analysis. The titles and abstracts of the South African authored articles were analysed using the LeximancerTM tool in order to map the trends. The results indicate that most distance education publications written by South African authors have been published in South African journals and are context specific to South Africa. These articles mainly address the micro level research area of practices and experiences of teaching and learning in an open distance learning environment. In addition the research indicates that there are very few articles that reflect the trends in the past five years of interactive learning, MOOCs and Open Educational Resources that were identified by Zawacki-Richter and Naidu.

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