Improving Distance Student Retention Through Satisfaction and Authentic Experiences

Improving Distance Student Retention Through Satisfaction and Authentic Experiences

Madeleine Bornschlegl (Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia) and David Cashman (School of Arts and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJOPCD.2018070105


As attrition rates of Australian undergraduate distance programs are consistently high, this article investigates whether retention can be increased by increasing the students' satisfaction through improving the student experience. This project examines the distance student experience informed by students' satisfaction with already identified crucial program factors. The authors propose that the Experience Economy model, utilised in tourism studies and general economics, is also relevant to education. An online survey collected data from 75 undergraduate distance students. Gathered data was analysed using two simple mediation models. The distance student experience and the students' satisfaction with crucial program factors were strongly indirectly related to the students' intention to persist through the students' overall satisfaction. The results indicate that designers of tertiary distance courses should consider program factors and the characteristics of the distance student experience to ensure high levels of student satisfaction and to increase the students' intention to persist.
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The popularity of completing higher education courses online has increased rapidly over recent years (Lee & Choi, 2011), with around 20 percent of all Australian tertiary students enrolled in online programs (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). Students decide to study online for various reasons, including flexibility, the opportunity to integrate study with family and work commitments and the advantage of being unrestricted regarding location and time (Lee & Choi, 2011; Parker, 1999; Liu, Gomez, & Yen, 2009). However, one major disadvantage has been consistent over recent years. High attrition rates of about 45 percent compared to 18 percent for on-campus students have not improved in recent years (Australian Government – Department of Education and Training, 2015).

This study considers whether the design of Australian distance education courses can be improved thus increasing student retention. Referring to the above mentioned longitudinal data of the Australian Government – Department of Education and Training (2015), student retention includes students who are still enrolled in a course or who graduated from university. To add to previously identified crucial program factors for distance student retention, we consider the potential implications and application of a tourism and business model, Pine and Gilmore’s Experience Economy (1998). The model explains how authentic experiences can be created. Authentic learning experiences comprise activities that reflect the reality, are enriching and mesmerising, and allow the student to engage (Herrington & Herrington, 2006). Furthermore, the research objectives of this study, the identification of how the student experience, the student satisfaction and retention in online courses are related, are outlined. This article utilises simple mediation models to describe the procedure of determining the relationship between more than two variables with a sample size of n = 75.

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