Part-time Adult Learners: Modelling factors that influence persistence

Castles, Margaret Jane (2003). Part-time Adult Learners: Modelling factors that influence persistence. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study set out to identify and examine factors contributing to the persistence of adult learners studying part-time in higher education. The research was carried out with distance learning students from the Open University of the United Kingdom, but evidence from the literature suggests that many of the results may be generalisable to other adult part-time learners. The literature review included a review of previous models of persistence and attrition and covered the demographic statistics of adult part-time learners as well as the three areas of social and environmental, traumatic and intrinsic factors that might be expected to affect study. Studies from health psychology were included to highlight the importance of personal characteristics in persistence.

Following the literature review, a qualitative study was undertaken, based on interviews with three groups of students: those who had persisted, those who had formally withdrawn and those who had left without notifying the university. This study refined, and reduced to twelve, the number of factors isolated from the literature. Based on these results, a tentative model was produced which was quantitatively tested through a postal survey. The analysis of the results of this survey indicated that three factors were of paramount importance.
These were:
- support for the student, from any source (with some differences identified between the support requirements of men and of women)
- an optimistic (sometimes over-optimistic) determination on the part of the student to persist and succeed in overcoming crises, such as possible illness
- the ability to study strategically and reflectively

The outcomes, while pointing to the difficulties of constructing a single model that would serve to predict persistence for all adults, highlight the importance of identifying factors that can contribute to the persistence and success of adult learners in their studies.

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