Demand for higher education in Kenya has continued to rise over the years thereby outstripping the available supply in the conventional face-to-face programmes. This can be attributed to two major factors. First, are the reforms in the basic education sector, for example, the Free Primary Education and the Free Day Secondary Education which have enhanced enrolment and completion rates in these lower levels. Second, is the changing labour market trend which requires workers to be re-tooled during their working life. Universities therefore have to cope with demand for education from young secondary school graduates as well as older citizens who are already working. To meet this high demand for higher education as well as provide flexible education for the working class, universities in Kenya must leverage the potential of ICT in teaching and learning. Despite moves by most universities in Kenya more than a decade ago to embrace Open and distance learning (ODL) programmes that utilise modern ICT technologies in teaching and learning, enrolment in these programmes still remain low compared to the traditional face-to-face platform of delivery. For example, in 2016, Kenyatta University, which had a total student population of about 70,000 had only about 6,000 (8.5%) enrolled in the Digital School of Virtual and Open Learning. The objective of this study is to establish the obstacles that hinder the success of Open and Distance Learning programmes at Kenyatta University. The study employed a sequential mixed methods design that allowed collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. Data was collected from a sample of 207 students through a questionnaire while Key Informant Interviews were conducted with 5 members of staff directly involved either in the management of the ODeL programme or in on-line teaching. The study established that success of the ODeL programme was hampered by technical, instructional, institutional and personal challenges. Key technical challenges faced by both students and staff are insufficient exposure to computers and ICT technology, lack of finances to buy ICT gadgets and lack of internet connectivity. Key institutional challenges facing the programme are delayed delivery of study materials and inadequate learner support services. With regard to instructional challenges, inadequate academic support due to lecturers failing to facilitate units on-line and poorly designed course materials were the key ones. Lastly, learners in the programme faced individual challenges such as financial constraints, insufficient study time, conflict between study and family/work balance. The study recommends the strengthening of learner support mechanisms to address the institutional, instructional and individual challenges faced by learners in the ODeL programme.
Keywords: Blended learning, distance learning, e-learning, higher education, ICT, ODel, open learning.