Part-Time Distance Learners’ Experiences Of Study Breaks

Robson, Linda (2020). Part-Time Distance Learners’ Experiences Of Study Breaks. In: INTED2020 Proceedings, article no. 393.



Part-time distance learners often have complex lives, and the challenge of fitting study around family and work commitments means many find their studies are disrupted by external events. At The Open University, UK, over 5000 students each year formally interrupt their study through 'assessment banking'. The Open University teaching model incorporates regular continuous assessment, so, assessment banking allows students to take a break mid-module, and return at the same point the following year, bringing with them any grades from assessment tasks already completed. Despite a clear intention to resume their studies, less than two thirds of assessment banking students recommence study in the following year. Of those who return, less than half go on to successfully complete their module. This raises the question of what brings about the discrepancy between intention and actuality?
This paper reports on an initial study looking into the experiences of three students who did return to study after an assessment banking break, and what motivated them to do so. Semi-structured interviews were used to explore participant accounts of deciding to take a break, being on a break and subsequently returning to study. The key themes arising from this small scale study are around the difficulty of deciding to take a break, fluctuations in study motivation and issues of student identity in a part-time distance learning context.
This research is part of a larger study looking to improve the university’s advice and guidance offered to students considering taking a formal interruption and develop a better understanding of how to support them to return to study.

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