Predictors of achievement and persistence among distance-education students: Do traditional and nontraditional students differ?

Louis Alfons Whittington


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of selected variables on achievement and persistence among students involved in distance education and to determine if the selected variables may be used to discriminate between traditional versus nontraditional status. Independent variables were age, gender, marital status, number of dependents, family support, family trauma, personal income, work status, work status of spouse, educational level, field of study, hi-tech media, audio visual media, nontechnical media, program rating, locus of control, and traditional versus nontraditional status. The dependent variables were achievement and persistence. Subjects consisted of 168 students enrolled in distance-education courses at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill campus. The sample, consisting of 80 traditional and 88 nontraditional students, was administered the Participation in Distance Education Questionnaire (PIDEQ) and the Rotter's Internal-External Locus of Control Scale during September through December 1996. This study used discriminant analysis to determine the set of variables that discriminated between traditional versus nontraditional status and regression analysis to determine the set of variables that predicted achievement and persistence, as well as test the means of achievement and persistence of traditional versus nontraditional status. The results of this study revealed the following: (a) the set of variables of program rating, audio visual media, hi-tech media, and age predict achievement; (b) the set of variables of audio visual media, education, income, field of study, and age predict persistence; (c) the variables of locus of control, marital status, income, and education can be used to group the students into traditional or nontraditional categories; and (d) there was no significant difference in the means of either persistence or achievement between traditional versus nontraditional status. Several recommendations are appropriate: For example, there is evidence to support a need for greater student support through seminars, teleconferencing, tutorials, and E-mail communication (for the individual as well as subject groups). It would be beneficial to provide user-friendly guides and manuals on the technologies used in distance education. Also, there are indications that program content is inappropriate. It would be helpful to periodically conduct curriculum needs assessment to dictate review of current program content and direct future program content.