Learner interrupted: understanding the stories behind the codes – a qualitative analysis of HE distance-learner withdrawals

Myers, Frances; Glover, Hayley and Stephens, Carey (2021). Learner interrupted: understanding the stories behind the codes – a qualitative analysis of HE distance-learner withdrawals. Journal of Further and Higher Education (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2021.1931061

Abstract

Successful retention of students through understanding their motivations and behaviours is a challenge to universities worldwide. Whilst the impact of withdrawals is an issue for all institutions, attrition for distance-learning providers is particularly problematic owing to higher non-completion rates, less physical visibility, and because distance-learners tend to have more complex lives. This paper examines students’ personal stories explaining their decisions to withdraw from university study. It considers 641 written discourses initiated by students as part of their requests to withdraw, covering the challenges they face, and the complex combinations of factors that contribute to their decisions to give up. This qualitative approach was adopted as a necessary complement to the quantitative rush of metrics information that universities now provide on withdrawal figures. Three themes selected are: deferral/withdrawal, time available, and preparedness for study. The paper concludes that complementary qualitative insights both add clarity and detail to institutional understanding and reduces oversimplification of complex decision-making from unidimensional quantitative approaches.

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