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American InterContinental University Adult Learning & Attrition Essay

American InterContinental University Adult Learning & Attrition Essay

Question Description

After reviewing the research I have read over the past 8 weeks, I have been able to identify themes, and as a result, I have slightly changed my research question to better contribute to the gap in literature. In working on my dissertation, I have found this to be quite common, especially as new literature is coming out daily. Regarding adult learners and attrition, the themes that I discovered were: the need for more effective support, unique needs and barriers of adult learners, the development of an orientation program, and the differences between online programs and brick and mortar schools.

To begin, there is clear evidence that, while more and more students are enrolling in online courses, the dropout rate is extremely high, and there is a wide girth of research on the reasons for that. The first theme in the research looked at the support or lack of support provided to adult or nontraditional learners (Fryer & Boyee, 2018, Kara, Erdogdu, Kokoc, & Cagiltay, 2019, Lehan, Hussey, Shriner, 2018, McManus, Dryer, & Henning, 2017, Yang, Baldwin, & Snelson, 2017). Previous researchers commonly indicate more support is needed, but that many students do not know how to access services or are hesitant to seek out these services when they are provided.

In addition, authors also note that nontraditional learners have unique needs as opposed to younger learners, including a lack of knowledge about technology and competing family and vocational roles (Kara et al., 2019, McManus et al., 2017). Students with motivational deficits struggle with their coursework, and the online platform sometimes causes more confusion than the convenience that an online program is supposed to provide (Iloh, 2019, Kara et al., 2019). Especially in the first year of distance learning, adult students find that misconceptions about the ease of the program lead them into a first year filled with frustration and confusion, which causes many to drop out (Lee, Choi, & Cho, 2019).

Folk (2019) looked at the impact of an orientation program to see if it impacted persistence, and it did not seem to have an impact although it did demonstrate that it met the program objectives. In addition, Yang, Baldwin, and Snelson (2017) looked at reasons that students do persist, and they mentioned that feeling a sense of accomplishment and feeling support from their program helped them to continue their degree program. Students have different goals and different expectations for how they need the program to serve them, so support must be individualized (Thistoll & Yates, 2016). Even though a generic orientation may not be beneficial for everyone, support services seem to be meaningful and underutilized.

Several of the studies that I read noted that students were ill-equipped for online learning due to their own or societal misconceptions about online learning. Students indicated that the schools were easy to apply and be admitted to, but once they were there, the struggled with the vast amount of coursework and the complexities of the technology used (Lee, Choi, and Cho, 2019). Many people believe that online schools are less demanding and easier than brick-and-mortar schools, and many programs advertise online classes as being the best option for adults with other responsibilities, however, many students find the opposite to be true (Iloh, 2019). While online learning may be a “soft entrance” into higher education because it is done in one’s own, familiar space, it offers these unique challenges as well (Travers, 2016).

The gap I found in this research was that, while there was quite a bit of information about online adult learners and their experiences in their programs, I did not find any research that made a direct comparison between brick and mortar schools and online schools that came from the same individual. Personally, I completed my undergraduate degree at a brick and mortar school, however, I completed 2 master’s degrees and am completing my PhD at fully online programs. My new research question based on this gap is: How do adult students describe their experiences in brick and mortar and online degree programs? This research would focus on students who have experienced both to make a comparison. While the prior research has explored these questions separately, no research has made comparisons from students who have experienced both. This would be important information to determine how the benefits of brick and mortar programs could possibly be transitioned more effectively to the online platform.


Folk, K. (2019). Evaluating the Impact of a First-Year Experience on Student Success at a Distance Learning University. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 22(4), 1–16.

Fryer, L. K., & Bovee, H. N. (2018). Staying motivated to e-learn: Person- and variable-centred perspectives on the longitudinal risks and support. Computers & Education, 120, 227–240.

Iloh, C. (2019). Does Distance Education Go the Distance for Adult Learners? Evidence from a Qualitative Study at an American Community College. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 25(2), 217–233.

Kara, M., Erdoğdu, F., Kokoç, M., & Cagiltay, K. (2019). Challenges faced by adult learners in online distance education: A literature review. Open Praxis, 11(1), 5-22.

Lee, K., Choi, H., & Cho, Y. H. (2019). Becoming a competent self: A developmental process of adult distance learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 41, 25–33.

Lehan, T. J., Hussey, H. D., & Shriner, M. (2018). The influence of academic coaching on persistence in online graduate students. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 26(3), 289–304.

McManus, D., Dryer, R., & Henning, M. (2017). Barriers to learning online experienced by students with a mental health disability. Distance Education, 38(3), 336–352.

Thistoll, T., & Yates, A. (2016). Improving Course Completions in Distance Education: An Institutional Case Study. Distance Education, 37(2), 180–195.

Travers, S. (2016). Supporting Online Student Retention in Community Colleges: What Data Is Most Relevant? Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 17(4), 49–61.

Yang, D., Baldwin, S., & Snelson, C. (2017). Persistence factors revealed: Students’ reflections on completing a fully online program. Distance Education, 38(1), 23–36.

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