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Role integration of adult women online learners

by Hunter, Lynn.

Abstract (Summary)
iii Abstract Distance education is one of the fastest growing areas in higher education. Since 1995, enrollments in credit-bearing courses have increased four fold, from an estimated 750,000 to nearly three million. Adult women, who constitute the majority of distance learners, may experience an irony as they undertake studies away from the traditional classroom setting. Attracted by the greater convenience of online courses that can be completed at home or work, they must wrestle more directly than their traditional counterparts with the competing demands of school, work, and family. In the rush to recruit these students, without implementing systematic student support, employing appropriate instructional design, and providing relevant faculty development, institutions risk sacrificing program quality and incurring the significant hidden cost of higher attrition. While no definitive national statistics exist on what percentage of distance learners complete their courses, some believe it is 10 to 20 percentage points lower than for traditional courses. Researchers studying persistence have traditionally focused on campus-based students. Theorists have investigated how students integrate themselves into academic environments, yet seldom how adults studying at a distance integrate academics into their personal and professional lives. To address that gap, this study explored how seven adult women pursuing an online degree in healthcare sought to integrate their new learner role into their lives during their first course of study. The main research question was, “What is the process by which adult women learners add the online learner role to their lives?” In addition, “Which factors contribute to the ways in which these women negotiate the strain and conflict of adding the online learner role?” was posed as a sub-question. It was hoped that learners in this population who persist through their first course iv of study may demonstrate how the proposed role integration process works and how to overcome obstacles to its successful completion. Each of the seven women who participated in the study resided in the United States and was enrolled in the first course of her online undergraduate degree program at Saint Joseph's College of Maine, a small, private liberal arts college. Taped telephone interviews were the primary data sources. Interviews were transcribed and coded. Member checks enhanced the trustworthiness of the data. Individual case studies were constructed in light of the study’s conceptual framework. During analysis, commonalities across cases were examined. Confirmatory and discrepant findings were presented, along with recommendations for practice. The study findings shed light on the diversity of adult women learner’s life contexts, as well as commonalities among the participants who shared similar enrollment outcomes. Three of the women were grandmothers, and four lived in multi-generational households. One woman worked full time from home. One woman was laid off by her employer just before enrolling in her course; another became ill and unable to work after enrolling in her course. Participants who completed their courses by the study’s conclusion reported the most instrumental support from role partners in home, work, and school domains. All seven participants reported using Type III coping (reactive role behavior) while juggling the demands of daily life before enrolling in their courses. After adding the learner role to their lives, however, the women demonstrated that Type III coping was a necessary but insufficient strategy for meeting demands across their expanded role sets. Women who used additional coping strategies; that is, Type I coping (structural role redefinition) and Type II coping (personal role redefinition), completed their courses by the study’s conclusion or were making satisfactory academic progress. Evidence from the study findings supports the expansionist view of role theory, in which an v individual’s time and energy, under certain conditions, are expandable and can accommodate increased role demands.
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School:Pennsylvania State University

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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