I began this blog at the start of term in January 2021, which coincided with the second lockdown. In January, I was in a significantly different place to where I am now; we returned to home schooling, this time with less support from my husband due to his new job, I was summoned for jury duty, and my job became significantly more demanding. Despite my reluctance to do so, I considered withdrawing from BOE under the weight of these commitments.
Almost five months later, I’m in a very different place with my work and personal commitments. My son returned to school in early April, I have a new job in the edtech sector, and I’ve managed to (almost) complete the course. I feel as though I’ve become a more strategic learner this term, as well. With more commitments to balance than ever, I have planned my assessments out methodically. I feel more confident as a student than last term.
I’m now considering undertaking my EdD – by distance, of course – and I’m relieved that I decided not to withdraw. The reassurance I received from my SBOSE lecturers when I explained my circumstances certainly impacted on this decision.
Considering all of this, I feel it makes sense to wrap up this course blog with thoughts about persistence. Persistence is defined as a course of action in the face of challenge or opposition. Persistence pertains to all aspects of our lives and COVID has required persistence of us all, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our circumstances.
In education, we try to instil in students a sense of persistence. At the college, we educated and supported students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Many students had already persisted to arrive at the college’s front doors. Some of them, despite their efforts and ours, did not attain what they had hoped. Student retention is so central to our measure of success as HEIs that losing students feels like losing an investment, far beyond any monetary measurement.
According to Herbert (2006), online courses experience 10% to 20% higher attrition rates, compared to traditional programmes. Retention remains a key concern for higher education. Institutions with high retention rates can face significant financial impact, concerns over quality and satisfaction, and a desire to understand how to improve. Problematically, the reason why students withdraw may be difficult to identify and so retention strategies are consequently challenging to formulate. Many educators refer to Tinto’s model of retention, but, in looking over this model, I feel it doesn’t accurately reflect the predominant issues that online learners face: for example, family and social pressures.
A more relevant model, by Bean and Metzner (1985) refers to the challenges with retaining nontraditional learners, who represent the bulk of pre-COVID online learners. They emphasise that nontraditional learners typically live off-campus, with family and work commitments, and do not draw their support system from their university and peers but from external sources. Essentially, nontraditional students do not view the institution as their ecosystem in the way traditional students do.
The academic experiences students bring with them to the classroom impacts on their persistence. Most models of retention point out that the learners have a history with education, shaped from childhood, that influences their ability to persevere, to establish self-efficacy and to create positive associations with learning (Tinto, 1987; Bean & Metzner, 1985; Rovai, 2003). My associations with education have been overwhelmingly positive and, I’m convinced that this has acted as a bulwark against any consideration to withdraw.
Despite this, the external factors of January 2021 were difficult to ignore. I had never walked away from a course of study. At the institute, several of our highest performing students withdrew in 2020. Reasons ranged from the stress of COVID, studying in a non-conducive environment, issues with isolation and the threat of furlough along with possible redundancy. Each time a student made that decision, I felt a sense of loss.
Whether that decision was the right one or not was not up to me, but I sympathised with how difficult the decision must have been. For these students, a chartered accountancy qualification represented more than a course of study; it represented a career path, a direction they thought their life would take. What path they take now is anyone’s guess and once they leave our institute, they leave our line of sight. I’d like to think that COVID has allowed some of them to take a new course that will be better for them than the one they had initially followed.
This blog has been an opportunity for me to explore the issues that we face in HE, in supporting students in this turbulent time. I have also used this blog as an opportunity to reflect on my own development on this programme, and how this experience so far has shaped my own professional path.
My new role allows me to work with business schools to shape the direction of online learning, with a global and collaborative dimension. What I learn on this course has served me already in this role. Connecting the personal, professional and academic through this blog has been a highly rewarding experience. In reflecting back on my introductory post, I feel that I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect on my relationship with students, both in my former role and in my new role, with a new level of understanding. As a student myself, I feel I understand some of the challenges they face, but I’m also in a position to address those challenges in my professional role.
Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of educational Research, 55(4), 485-540.
Rovai, A. P. (2003). In search of higher persistence rates in distance education online programs. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), 1-16.
Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. University of Chicago Press, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637.