Influences on student course progress in an independent study degree program: A student perspective

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Philip L. Doughty


distance education, independent study

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Psychology | Other Education


This study identifies from a student perspective the major influences facilitating and impeding the course progress of adult persisters enrolled in distance education courses as part of undergraduate independent study degree programs delivered by printed materials. Relationships between influences associated with progress are identified, and the relative importance of influences is suggested. Progress is defined in terms of student perceived movement toward student course goals.

This study uses a case study research strategy and was conducted in three phases consisting of a pilot study, initial participant interviews, and follow-up interviews (four months later) and included a total of thirty adult students. Additional types of evidence were used to corroborate and supplement participant interview data. Techniques of qualitative data analysis were used to analyze and interpret data collected from and across individuals.

Study findings suggest fifteen influences appear to be associated with progress toward student course goals. These influences are categorized as student life context (individual attributes, educational background, employment responsibilities, family and social responsibilities, employment support, and family and social support) and current academic experiences (motivation level, motivation type, depth of study, problem coping, time management, course design, instructor, and program organization and structure). In addition, progress toward student course goals itself was identified as an influence.

Relationships between influences are discussed and combinations of influences appearing to facilitate and impede progress toward student goals are identified. Seven of fifteen influences associated with course progress are identified as key influences (in terms of strength). In addition, four interrelated themes emerged from the analysis of combinations and patterns of influences which appear to facilitate and impede course progress: connectedness, engagement, direction, and real-world focus.

This study suggests future research on student progress should measure progress from a student perspective (rather than from an institutional perspective) to fully reflect adult students' conceptions of course progress. In addition, study findings indicate influences associated with student course progress are highly complex, interrelated, dynamic, and situational. Consequently, future research should view influences on student course progress as interactive and question assumptions that influences an student course progress are linearly and causally related.


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