Understanding Different Categories of Attrition in Distance Education Programs

Understanding Different Categories of Attrition in Distance Education Programs

Seung Youn (Yonnie) Chyung (Boise State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch322
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Distance learning is often referred to as taking training or education courses that are either synchronously or asynchronously delivered via various media such as audio, video, or computer, especially Internet technologies in recent years. The number of corporate training programs delivered via Internet technologies (a.k.a., e-learning) has dramatically increased over the last several years. According to ASTD reports (2002, 2003), the percentage of e-learning programs delivered in the Benchmark Service companies in the U.S. increased from 8.8% of total training hours in 2000 to 10.5% in 2001. The number of distance programs offered at degree-granting educational institutions in the U.S. has also gradually increased each year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2003), 56% of two-year or four-year degree-granting educational institutions offered distance education (DE) courses during the 12-month 2000-2001 academic year, and during the time period, about 2.8 million students were enrolled in college-level credit-granting DE courses, the majority of which were Internet-based courses. Internetdelivered instruction has gained credibility during recent years as well. Research has shown that there seems to be no significant difference in terms of the effectiveness of instruction delivered in traditional classroom settings and the effectiveness of instruction delivered via the Internet (van Schaik, Barker & Beckstrand, 2003). Such research findings, coupled with potential benefits such as cost-effectiveness and convenience, have likely contributed to the increasing popularity of Internet-delivered distance learning programs.
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Attrition From A De Course

A critical step in investigating attrition in DE programs is to establish an operational definition of attrition, which is quite simple to do for a short-term e-learning course or a semester-long DE course. Attrition in a course is measured by comparing the number of enrollments in the beginning of the course to the number of enrollments at the end of the course (see Figure 1). An exit interview or survey can be conducted to reveal the reasons for attrition. A correlation study may be conducted to show if students’ drop-out behavior can be predicted by specific variables such as age, previous computer experience, GPA, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, financial status, or other factors.

Figure 1.

Studying drop-outs in a semester-long course


Key Terms in this Chapter

Non-Starters: Students who were admitted to a degree program, but have not enrolled in any courses yet.

Cancelled-Outs: Students who cancel their registration before the official drop-out deadline.

Failed-Outs: Students who failed a course (or courses) and did not meet the academic standard. Therefore, they have been automatically removed from the program. Failed-outs are different from no-shows since the failing grade resulted from the lack of academic competence rather than abandoning behavior.

Skip-Outs: Students who have not enrolled in a course for a small number of semesters (usually one or two semesters) after successfully completing at least one course.

Transferred-Outs: Students who enroll in a course (or courses) with an intention to transfer the credit to another program. Transferred-outs are different from those who dropped out of a degree program and later transferred credits to another degree program that they have newly started.

Operational Definition: In order to investigate any aspects of behavior that can be interpreted in many ways, it is necessary to provide specific definitions that are concise and measurable for the investigation.

Stop-Outs: Students who have not enrolled in a course for a considerably long period of time (usually more than two semesters) after successfully completing at least one course.

Drop-Outs: Students who have clearly expressed no intention of continuing in the program. “Anyone who enrolls in a program and does not eventually complete it is normally classified as a drop-out. This broad interpretation of drop-out masks a wide variety of paths into and out of programs” (Kember, 1995, p. 258).

Course-Level Attrition vs. Program-Level Attrition: Attrition should be understood on two different levels—attrition on a course level and attrition on an entire degree program level. Course-level attrition includes no-shows, cancelled-outs, and course-withdrawals. Program-level attrition includes non-starters, failed-outs, transferred-outs, skip-outs, stop-outs, and drop-outs. Most ‘drop-out’ research studies reported in the literature deal with attrition on a course level.

Course-Withdrawals: Students who withdraw from a course after the official drop-out deadline.

No-Shows: Students who register for a course, but do not show up in class from the beginning or after a certain period of attendance without withdrawing from the course. As a result, they receive a failing grade.

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