Student retention in distance education using on-line communication

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Distance education has suffered from lower retention and completion rates when compared to conventional, face-to-face teaching. A major reason associated with students not persisting with their studies in distance education has been the lack of interaction between the teacher and the learner. This lack of interaction tends to result in students feeling isolated and, consequently, can impact on the students’ motivation to complete or to even start their studies. The primary aim of this research was to investigate the effect of a program of faculty-initiated motivational messages sent via electronic mail and designed in accordance with Keller’s ARCS model of motivation. The question was whether such an intervention would reduce students’ sense of isolation and improve their motivation, resulting in more student commencements and completions. The research reported was empirical-analytical in nature. It employed experimental and control groups of students. The former experienced the email messages while the latter did not experience these messages. The results of this study indicated that the use of collective motivational email messages was a significantly effective strategy to increase student participation in and completion of distance education modules. In addition, a survey-based questionnaire was employed to examine students’ perceptions of their distance learning experience. The results revealed that many students appreciated this form of communication support and, importantly, perceived the email messages as having influenced their motivation and, at least in some respect, their effort in the modules. The results of this study validated some of the elementary findings of Visser (1998). In contrast, however, to the findings of Visser’s (1998) study, which involved only a small number of students, the present study revealed that the sending of collective motivational communication via electronic mail was an effective way to positively influence the effort of large numbers of students. This was seen to be a beneficial finding for distance education providers’ world wide, as large numbers of students typify most distance institutions.
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