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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Attrition and completion in distance education : the student's perspective Brindley, Jane E.


This was an exploratory study which used Flanagan's (1954) Critical Incident Technique to examine students' experiences in taking their first distance education course. Specifically, the study asked what incidents hindered or facilitated persistence, and if reports of experiences from completers were different from those of non-completers. The 40 subjects for the sample were drawn at random from selected courses at Athabasca University, an open admission distance education institution serving students across Canada. All students were able to identify incidents which hindered or facilitated their progress. A mean of 6.6 incidents was reported per student. From the 265 incidents reported, 13 Basic Categories were formed, with a reliability of 94%. Only one category had less than 20% of students reporting in it. The highest proportion of students reporting in one category was 80%. Significant factors affecting attrition in distance education emerged from the study, as did findings about the similarities and differences between the experiences of completers and non-completers. Suggestions for how the findings might contribute to the development of a model of attrition and retention strategies are included in the discussion.

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