Summary of “Factors Associated with Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A Review of the Literature” by Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart’s article is a literature review of recent peer reviewed journal articles describing factors that enable higher education students to successfully complete an online course. Hart’s review included thirty-seven articles describing student qualities promoting persistence defined as “the ability to complete an online course despite obstacles or adverse circumstances.”

Factors promoting persistence begin with adult students who need and can effectively take advantage of the flexible schedules of online learning. These students must also have good study skills in order to efficiently plan time dedicated to school, family, and jobs. These students often have specific educational or career goals that make their school work relevant and important. They are likely to be self-motivated and willing to challenge themselves. This confidence leads to more personal involvement in class discussions, a willingness to ask questions, and the perseverance to solve problems.

Class standing and college status also correlate with persistence. Students nearer degree completion are more likely to complete online instruction. Presumably, students less likely to persist withdrew earlier in their education. Persistent students often have high grade point averages indicating strong academic skills and a will to succeed.

External factors enabling persistence include student satisfaction in the program or course quality and when the student finds it relevant to overall goals. These students value interactions or relationships with instructors and classmates providing meaningful feedback and support. This indicates that successful students are in fact often social learners rather than the solitary learners. Finally, external support may come from family, friends, employers, and coworkers who provide encouragement and assistance during challenging times.

Barriers to persistence can result from particular learning style preferences. In particular, students preferring auditory learning may not succeed online where extensive reading is required. The corollary to this is that online success requires strong literacy skills. Clearly online learners need relatively strong computer skills and have access to computers and the Internet. Some students may overestimate their ability or may become discouraged if preliminary attempts to work online are not successful. This can also lead to a sense of isolation and to overall dissatisfaction with the course.

Hart acknowledges that the definition of persistence is broad and factors leading to student completion of online studies are many and varied. Still, she hypothesizes that cognizance of these factors by faculty, staff, and students can lead to specific interventions when students are struggling.  She concludes with a call for additional research leading to evidence based methods for identifying attributes promoting persistence and ways to foster those attributes in classes and students.

Hart, C. (2012). Factors Associated With Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1), 19–42. doi:Article


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