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Factors in the persistence of distance higher education students

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Rowlands, DL (2009) Factors in the persistence of distance higher education students. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Why some students successfully complete study through distance education
and others do not is becoming an increasingly important question as distance
education moves from a marginal to an integral role in the provision of
tertiary education. The aims and purpose of this research were to: (1) compare
and contrast the principal causes of attrition in distance higher education with
a similar study conducted in 1986, (2) better characterise the contemporary
experience of studying at a distance as a higher education student,
particularly with consideration of online learning and (3) develop and test an
updated model of student progress in distance education.
A new model of student progress in distance education was developed by
critically analysing models from the literature and reviewing the origins of
these models. Common elements of the earlier models were identified and the
applicability of each element was assessed by critically analysing its currently
accepted significance in recent research. This resulted in the development of a
hybrid model consisting of elements of the models that emphasised the
inherent characteristics of students and those that emphasised elements
related to the learning process. The resultant model drew substantially on the
model of Kember (1995), though components were added to take account of
the emergence of online learning and others were removed, such as grade
point average and Kember’s concept of a ‘recycling loop’.
The suitability of the new model was tested by surveying a group of 210
distance students at the University of Tasmania. The survey looked at study
outcome (whether a student withdrew or continued/completed) and
correlated this with the factors comprising the model. The data were
interrogated through statistical analysis (SPSS). It was found that the majority
of the factors within the model showed some correlation to outcome. The
analysis also indicated that the model had reasonable predictive value.
However, the research did find that some factors did not fit well. In
particular, ‘motivation type’ (whether the subjects intrinsically or extrinsically
motivated) did not conform to the assumption in the model that students who
are intrinsically motivated were more likely to continue. It appears from the
findings that the type of motivation is irrelevant ‐ rather it appeared that it is
the degree of motivation that is important.
The collected data were subjected to factor analysis. This resulted in the
identification to seven factors quite distinct from those used in the hybrid
model developed for the study. Using this information, together with further
analysis of the qualitative data collected for the study, an alternative new
model was proposed and described.
In addition, the study also found that the main reasons for student attrition in
distance education have changed little in 20 years despite new technologies
becoming available. Indeed while online learning has solved many of the
problems surrounding communication and isolation felt by most students it
has caused new problems. In this study, the technology appeared to alienate
a small number of students. The technology also has the potential to create
unrealistic expectations about the availability of academic staff.
The qualitative part of the study indicated that poor institutional interaction
(that is a student’s communications, transactions and relations with university
staff, systems and services) seemed to have a multiplier effect on the other
factors, in that a student’s negative institutional experience can exacerbate any
existing adverse circumstances and cause students to withdraw. The
implication of this finding was that even small improvements in students’
institutional interaction could reduce attrition significantly.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Distance education, retention, student experience
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2009 the Author

Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2014 01:03
Last Modified: 06 May 2016 03:26
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