Dropout, stopout, and time challenges in open online higher education: A qualitative study of the first-year student experience

Abstract

Early dropout in online higher education remains a complex challenge intrinsically linked to stopout behaviour. Time poverty and time-related conflicts seem to be central for these phenomena; however, time issues have seldom been studied from the perspective of learners. This qualitative study explored retrospectively the lived experiences of time among first-year students who withdrew from an Open University. Content analysis of in-depth interviews with 16 undergraduate learners examined comparatively how they experienced and managed time and how time challenges impacted their decision to withdraw. Findings indicate that time poverty and time-related conflicts were the main factor behind such a decision, especially for part-time non-traditional learners, and that the foundational semester was crucial. Time challenges appeared connected mostly to student and situational factors: students’ life circumstances, time management or procrastination, and unrealistic expectations. Life circumstances affecting health, family, or work were the most important factor for the majority, particularly the dropouts. While stopouts managed to improve their time-conditions and re-enrol later, most dropouts failed to balance academic duties with time-consuming personal commitments. Two temporal models are presented, connecting the main reported factors with the students’ foundational semester and lifeload. These insights into time challenges can advance student-informed strategies to foster student retention.

Publication
Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, Advance online publication

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Citation

Xavier, M., Meneses, J., & Fiuza, P. J. (2022). Dropout, stopout, and time challenges in open online higher education: A qualitative study of the first-year student experience. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2022.2160236
Marlon Xavier
Marlon Xavier
Investigador doctoral

Investigador doctoral del programa d’Educació i TIC de la UOC.

Julio Meneses
Julio Meneses
Professor agregat

Professor de metodologia de la investigació, director de Learning Analytics de l’eLearning Innovation Center i investigador de l’Internet Interdisciplinary Institute de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

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