That distance learning paradigms can benefit from the aforementioned is emphasised by Alan Tait, a faculty member at the Open University, UK, whose article is the primary focus of this critique.
Commencing with a historical overview of the evolution of open and distance learning in the United Kingdom and Europe, Tait (2003) identifies transportation technology as having played a pivotal role in the development of the stated phenomenon. A railway system supported by an organised and efficient postal and mail services enabled tutors to guide, direct and educate students across distance. Certainly, as Tait (2003) concedes, the system was fraught with a number of challenges, most of which stemmed from the absence of any form of interpersonal communication between students and tutors. With the evolution of such information and communication technology tools such as the home computer and the internet, open and distance learning became e-learning. Reputable higher educational institutions began to offer courses, degree and certificate programmes over the web.
Within the context of open and distance learning, e-learning stands out as a revolutionary development for several reasons. In the first place, and as Tait (2003) emphasises, while earlier forms of distance learning had partially overcome the challenges posed by space and distance, web-based learning obliterated distance. In the second place, while open and distance learning, as delivered through correspondence, partly overcame the challenges posed by distance, it was not able to do so vis--vis time. Web-based learning, on the other hand, annihilated this particular challenge just as it did as regards distance. In other words, web-learning is a revolutionary development within the context of open and distance learning because it enabled cross-distance interpersonal communication and immediacy of delivery (Tait, 2003).
Despite its numerous advantages and even though it successfully overcame many of the more significant of the challenges which confronted earlier distance learning paradigms, e-learning has to be restructured towards higher levels of student-orientation. As Tait (2003) notes, facts and figures indicate that the field is highly competitive, on the one hand, and there are high non-completion, or student drop-out rates on the other. Universities or educational institutes which offer web-based services must, both as a response to competition and high non-completion rates, need to focus on the improvement of their delivery paradigm through the integration of student support systems (Tait, 2003).
Besides the fact that student support systems should be integrated into the e-learning delivery paradigm because it is a popular student demand, the imperatives of integration emanate from the fact that it will significantly improve and facilitate e-learning and will, additionally, reduce non-completion rates. Student support systems will function to support the learning process through the provision of more immediate tutor-student mentoring and guidance as would extend the learning and emotional support which would encourage students to complete the programme, on the one hand, and bring e-learning closer to the levels of efficiency and effectiveness attained