Employment-driven Online Student Attrition and the Assessment Policy Divide
An Australian Open-access Higher Education Perspective
Keywords:open access, flexible delivery, open education, open educational practices
Two hundred and twenty-six qualitative interviews with students studying at Australia’s largest online tertiary education organisation, Open Universities Australia (OUA), found that failure to complete assessments due to unexpected and unavoidable employment commitments was the standout reason for dropping out of its open-access courses. The
assessment policies of 10 Australian universities that teach the OUA tertiary programmes were then reviewed to evaluate the extent to which employment-related circumstances were considered to be grounds for granting concessions and extensions. Half of these institutions’ policies did not mention employment as an extenuating circumstance, others made only passing reference, and one specifically stated that work was not a valid reason for an assignment extension. In this regard, online students may not be receiving the flexible and accessible learning that online education is purported to provide. This situation highlights a broader issue, in that many online educators are using policies and protocols that are designed for traditional on-campus students without adequate adaptation for the online learner. Considerable scope therefore exists for improving online learner satisfaction and retention by more effectively accommodating online student characteristics and needs.
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