Attrition in the Digital Age: Reminders from the Literature

Attrition in the Digital Age: Reminders from the Literature

Kate Reed (University of New England, Australia), Nathan Wise (University of New England, Australia), Belinda Tynan (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Carina Bossu (University of New England, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4205-8.ch020
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Abstract

Distance education (learning and teaching by distance modes of information exchange) is often characterised by having higher attrition rates (often labelled as “drop-out” or “withdrawal”) compared to traditional face-to-face (or “on-campus”) education. It has been claimed that no area of research in distance education has received more attention; such is the concern surrounding attrition. This chapter suggests that a holistic understanding of the numerous, complex, and interlinked factors that may contribute to a learner choosing to discontinue their studies continues to elude researchers. Furthermore, attrition may not always be a negative outcome; for example, a learner may have achieved the desired skill set from their studies. In the current higher education climate it is imperative for universities to maintain student enrolments. Attrition directly impacts upon wasted expenditure and loss of revenue for an institution. Additionally, withdrawing from tertiary studies can have consequences for the distance learner. This chapter explores underlying concerns and identify key questions and gaps regarding attrition in distance education for the digital age.
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Distance Education Background

Distance education theory, in the sense of a sustained, growing body of knowledge, generating theory through systematic research, began to emerge in the 1950s and 1960s (Keegan, 1990). Since this time there has been much discussion amongst researchers regarding an agreed, appropriate and applicable definition for distance education (Keegan, 1990). For the purpose of this article, distance education will be defined as a system of education delivery in which the majority of learning takes place with the learner and the teacher (physically) separated by space (geographic location) and/or time, the gap between the two being bridged by technology (DEHub, 2009; Gallie, 2005; Holmberg, 1977; Keegan, 1990; Moore, 2007; Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Petracchi, 2000; Wedemeyer, 1981). The term “distance education” subsumes a number of existing terms including “off-campus,” “external,” “online,” “non-traditional,” “correspondence,” “flexible,” and “distributed” teaching/learning/education.

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