Persistence of adult learners in distance education.
The purpose of this thesis was to examine the relationship between persistence in distance education and resilience, life events, and external commitments. Previous studies in persistence in distance education have largely examined withdrawal and identified family, job and life circumstances as major reasons why students dropout or fail to complete courses. Recent literature has described resilience as a quality that characterizes individuals who, though exposed to significant stress and adversity in their lives, do not succumb to the educational and life failures predicted for them. Although resilience has not, to date, been extensively examined in distance education, it was believed to be a major factor affecting persistence and dropout behavior in distance education. The sample consisted of 121 randomly selected undergraduate students, between the age of 30 to 45, who were registered in their first undergraduate course at Athabasca University and who returned the previously mailed questionnaire packets. Data relating to gender and course completion was obtained from student records. Scores from the Resiliency Attitudes Scale (RAS), the Life Events Inventory (LEI), and one questionnaire relating to external commitments completed the data set. Analyses of variance and discriminate analysis revealed that four of the resiliency skills (relationships, general resilience, initiative, insight), and five of the resiliency sub-skills (attaching, persistence, valuing, recruiting, generating) were significantly correlated with persistence. No significant correlation was found for life events, gender, or previous experience with distance courses. Of the six external commitments included in the discriminate analysis, only work commitments was significantly correlated with persistence (p = 0.0247). This study correctly classified 66% of the students as persisters or non-persisters in their Athabasca University distance course.