Follow-up Study on Dropouts from the ODL English Major – Analysis of Student Dropout Rates


Li Ying1, Chen Henan2 & Niu Jian3

 (1. Research Institute of Open and Distance Education, The Open University of China, Beijing 100039, China; 2. School of Foreign Languages, Shanghai Open University, Shanghai 200433; 3. School of Foreign Languages, The Open University of China, Beijing 100039)


Abstract: Based on the “Attribution analysis framework of open and distance learning (ODL) dropouts”, this report presents a close analysis of English major students from 14 provincial radio and TV universities (PRTVUs) in China, who enrolled in either a diploma programme or a bachelor’s degree programme in the spring semester of 2010. It analyzes dropout rates over the course of three consecutive semesters. The results show that dropouts peak in the first and second semester, while dropout rates in the third semester are comparatively low. The reasons for discontinuing either a diploma programme or a bachelor’s degree programme are relatively similar. From the students’ perspective, lack of prior knowledge and skill, lack of student-teacher interaction and low motivation are the primary reasons driving dropouts. Professional tutors stress the intense psychological pressure that derives from an insufficient academic background. The teaching assistants in charge of the daily management (hereinafter referred to as “teaching assistants”) focus on non-academic factors, such as a busy work schedule. All the reasons mentioned above are closely related to insufficient preparation prior to attending university. Although the barriers to entry for ODL are fairly low, students are still required to meet certain academic standards, such as the ability to use ICT, allocate time appropriately and prepare for lessons. The results suggest that distance education institutions should place an emphasis on building abilities for ODL in order to help students to address the challenges facing them head-on.

Key Words: ODL; English Major; Student Dropouts


Ⅰ. Research background

This paper is the third in a series of reports by the “Study on ODL Dropouts” research group. It takes as its subject students from the English major of various RTVUs over the course of three consecutive semesters. For the first report, data was collected through academic records, and questionnaires and interviews with teachers (including professional tutors and teaching assistants) and student dropouts from 14 PRTVUs. The first report reveals English major dropout rates six months on and the reasons driving the rates, which include general ODLrelated problems and problems rooted in the English major itself. ODL related reasons include lack of work-study balance, inappropriate choice of major, dissatisfaction with ODL teaching methods, change of life and work circumstances, insufficient learning motivation, etc. The English major itself is also a cause for discontinuation, since it requires a stronger educational background (Li Ying, 2011). The second report is derived from the dropout rates of 14 PRTVUs over the course of three semesters, along with the academic records of the students who dropped out. The report focuses on students who fail to complete their undergraduate course and analyzes course registration and academic performance of student dropouts. The result suggests that the wrong choice of major may result in a student dropping out. The second report also suggests that distance education institutions should strengthen the guidance available to students to help them to select the right course. In addition, tutors should help students to understand the sequence of ODL courses and provide individual support for students with a weak educational background, in order to help them carry their achievements from the previous semester into the following semester (Li Ying, 2012). As with the first two reports, the data in this report was taken from 14 PRTVUs over the course of three semesters. Based on a quantitative and qualitative study, the report analyzes and contrasts the dropout rates of two different groups of students, those enrolled on a diploma programme and those enrolled on a bachelor’s degree programme, over the course of three consecutive semesters. The purpose of this study is to determine the reasons that influence students’ decisions to dropout. Here, dropout students refer to those who changed major or university, suspended their course, dropped out of university, were admitted but haven’t studied any courses or failed to register following admission, since the spring semester of 2010.


Ⅱ. Analysis framework

During the earlier research, the Rovai (2003) and Park (2009) models were used to formulate a theoretical model and explanatory framework for dropouts from ODL (Figure 1). Figure one is designed to explain the relationship between the various factors responsible for dropouts from ODL. It reveals that: 1. Students need to have developed learning abilities and basic academic knowledge prior to proceeding with ODL; 2. Various factors result in the discontinuation of ODL, such as personal characteristics and learning abilities prior to enrollment, the external environment after enrollment, and integration into the ODL environment; 3., Close links with the ODL institution can have a high psychological impact on the students (Du Yongxin, 2011). This report will further organize and analyze related data based on figure one.