Posted by: emapey | June 18, 2009

How to Reduce the Dropout Rate of Adult Learners in Higher Education

It seems to be safe to make an argument that there are at least two important factors that influence adult learners to get motivated or de-motivated to learn via distance education options. The two factors are:

1. Adult learners are goal-oriented; therefore, distance education programs should provide learning environments where they can accomplish their goals.
2. Adult learners are learning-oriented; therefore, distance education programs should provide learning environments where they can acquire interesting and relevant knowledge and skills.

The author has carried out a long-term evaluation study to make a judgment of the effectiveness of the interventions designed based on the above assumptions. The interventions were designed in order to reduce the high dropout rate in an adult online education program and evaluated was the effectiveness of the interventions in terms of the changed dropout rate.
Read more:

This article identifies characteristics of the adult learner and briefly reviews literature on the attrition and retention of adult learners in higher education programs. A summary of that research shows that adult learners focus on their roles as learners, their ability to balance school with outside responsibilities, and their flexibility in attaining personal goals within the context of educational and institutional goals. Programs aimed at improving the retention of adult learners and lessening attrition rates must take into account these factors.
Read more: Academic Exchange Quarterly | Find Articles at BNET

This review of the literature focuses on three primary dimensions of adult learners in postsecondary education: access, persistence, and success. Within each of these dimensions, there are four broad units of analysis: individual/family/community, institutions, state policies/collaborations, and federal policies/collaborations.
Source: Lumina Foundation

The best way to motivate adult learners is simply to enhance their reasons for enrolling and decrease the barriers. Instructors must learn why their students are enrolled (the motivators); they have to discover what is keeping them from learning. Then the instructors must plan their motivating strategies. A successful strategy includes showing adult learners the relationship between training and an expected promotion.
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Most of us remember sitting in a lecture listening to an instructor telling us about some subject for an hour or so, taking a short break, and then continuing the lecture for another hour or so. How well did we learn the material covered during this lecture? How much of this material do we remember today? The most likely answer to both questions is “little”.

The situation just described did not take into consideration “how adults learn”. The purpose of this paper is to describe adult learning concepts, relate these concepts to practical adult training, and discuss how lessons can be structured to make good use of adult learning concepts.
Source: NTC Adult Learners



  1. Perhaps addressing as many learning styles as possible works too. For example, I’ve suggested that our instructors use the chat room feature in our LMS to hold a virtual ‘Office Hours.’ In designing my courses also try to add some synchronous learning activities to the body of asynchronous ones. I also try to vary the activities by applying wikis and even media development to some of the projects students work on instead of just having them turn written work in in forums. Variety, variety! 🙂

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