A different pattern of student engagement: Mature distance students at university

Concept map describing activities offered by u...Concept map describing activities offered by universities to encourage integrative learning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Ella Kahu started with a definition of mature students as 25 and over years of age. Many mature students are blancing their study with other resposibilities. There is a 29% attrition rate in the first year, and course pass rates are 79% (figures from the MoE; mature students doing bachelor degrees). The project aim was to develop a deeper understanding of student engagement in mature distance students.

Mature students have:

  • Equal levels of satisfaction
  • Deeper learning strategies
  • more committed / motivated
  • Different pattern of interaction (less interaction with other students)
  • Better able to manage distance (have the life skills and time-management skills
  •  Experience a lot of role and financial pressure
  •  alienation and anxiety
  • Lack of skills (don’t necessarily have the up to date skills required…yet another thing to learn in the first year)
  • Overload of first year
  • Knowledge conflict

The definition of student engagement for this study comes from the OSSIE: “The time and energy students invest in educationally purposeful activities, and the effort institutions devote to effective engagement”.  The scales of engagement include academic challenge, work integrated learning, active learning, enriching education experiences, and staff and student interactions.

Ella’s research questions are: Which dimensions predict satisfaction and learning? How do age and model of study relate to engagement and outcomes? How do students who consider leaving university differ? Of 1116 first year domestic undergraduate students at Massy, 27.1% are aged over 25. The relationship between engagement and satisfaction – the more engaged students are the more satisfied they are. The students who reported a higher support and more work-integrated learning were more satisfied. This increases to 44% where there was active learning.

Students who considered leaving (27%) were less satisfied, there was no difference with age or mode of study, there was lower learning, and reduced engagement (less supportive learning environment, less integration with work, and reduced academic challenge).

Age and mode of study did not affect the outcomes of satisfaction and learning, but saw more connections between what they were doing within the work environment, but made fewer friends with other students. the distance students scored lower on all levels of engagement.

Key things to consider are:

  • Creating a supportive learning environment (academic and social)
  • Work integrated learning are related top satisfaction, learning and persistence, and build on strengths of the mature distance students.
  • The active learning requires building in choice around asking questions and discussing equally, collaboration with other students…but caution is required.

The limitations of the study include the fact that the OSSIE was developed for practice not research, the timing of the survey, it’s a snapshot of a brief moment in time, but it requires more depth (including qualitative). and the view of engagement is behavioural.

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About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ (http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/). I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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