New study reveals retention rates are all about how students perceive time
There are many ‘practical’ reasons why a student would pick an online course over an onsite course: money, time constraints, travel time, and supplementing education rather than obtaining a full degree. But a new study reveals that one of the major reasons for dropout rates in online learning has a lot to do with the psycho-social profile of the student.
It’s an intrapsychological factor called temporal perspective (TP) and it’s pretty much the glass half-full/half-empty scenario, mixed in with some other perceptions. And, say researchers Margarida Romero and Mireia Usart from ESADE, it’s a major reason why many online classes have low retention rates.
“Instead of looking to demographics to paint a portrait of the online student, we believe lecturers and administration need to look at the social psychology of online students to determine which students are more likely to succeed and how to address their needs,” they say.
The study, “The Temporal Perspective in Higher Education Learners: Comparisons between online and onsite learning,” studied students in both a traditional face-to-face setting and in online classes (classes offered by the same higher-ed institution) using the Zimbardo time perspective inventory (ZTPI), which you can read about in the report.
Temporal perspective can be understood as someone’s cognitive construct, and typically falls into one of five categories:
– Past Negative (PN): They remember the traumatic and negative experiences from the past and tend to over-generalize those for their entire life.
– Past Positive (PP): They tend to recall the positive experiences from their past. It’s related to an optimistic outlook on life.
– Present Hedonists (PH): They are oriented towards immediate pleasure, living the present moment without worrying too much about the future.
– Present Fatalists (PF): They feel powerless about their future no matter what they do; they perceive themselves as helpless and define life as unfair.
– Future Time Perspective (FTP): They desire to plan and achieve specific future goals; they are achievement-oriented, have expectations for the future and hope for change.
According to the results of the study, onsite students have a very different temporal perspective than online students.
Students taking online courses show a high Past Negative (PN) perspective, while onsite students have a high Future Time Perspective (FTP).
One of the reasons this may be occurring, notes the study, is because of the vast difference in typical ages of both onsite and online students.
As the study reveals, students in onsite higher education have a “significantly lower average age (around 24) than online students, who are mostly in their mid-30s.” And as the researchers explain, as people get older, temporal perspectives also tend to change: younger people generally tend to be future-looking, whereas 30-40 year-olds tend to take more into account past experiences and have a higher concentration of Present Hedonists (PH).
“These results could be related with [one] study [in 2010] which showed that extroverts such as Past Positivists tend to prefer onsite classes; this chimes with the results of [another study in 2004], which showed that future-oriented individuals tend to engage more in onsite learning activities than present students,” say the researchers.
Perhaps the finding that carries the most weight is that “previous literature identifies FTP as one of the temporal orientations that could be strongly related to learning;” in other words, perhaps retention in many online classes is low because students, who are less inclined toward FTP, are worse learners.