The Effect of Group Interaction, Study Schedule, Tutor Support and Student Attributes on Persistence and Achievement in Distance Education
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the problem of high non-completion rates of students enrolled in undergraduate distance education courses. Attrition rates had always been an issue for educational institutions offering distance learning courses. A review of literature had shown various hypotheses that have advanced to explain persistence or dropout in higher education. This study involved a convenient sample of 58 students enrolled in an undergraduate course at Athabasca University. The students were part of a quasi-experiment and were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The effect of three levels of instructional approach (group interaction, study schedule, no treatment) were studied to determine if there were a significant difference among these three groups on persistence and achievement. It was determined that there was no significant difference among the three groups. The number of Call Centre contacts (requests for tutor support/academic assistance) was analysed. The Call Centre contact was found to be significantly related to persistence. This finding was consistent to that of Weinsheimer (1998) who had found that peer tutoring had a significant impact on retention and Wimbish (2001) who had found that student-teacher interaction had a significant impact on course completion. In contrast, finding for Call Centre contact and achievement were found to not be significant. A telephone survey was administered to all students to gather additional quantitative and qualitative data which helped to gain some insight on factors that influence student success in distance education. Student attributes such as marital status, dependants, status of employment (full-time or part-time), source of financial assistance, prior distance education experience, and enrolment in a program of study were analysed to determine whether there was any relationship among these attributes to persistence and achievement. The findings were not significant. In addition to the quantitative analysis, a review and analysis of students survey comments were undertaken. This helped identify the options that institutions have to help students succeed in distance education. The emerging themes were that students desired contact, encouragement, and interaction from their tutors/instructors and peers.