Adult learner persistence in online graduate education: Stressors, coping strategies, and social support
Wanda B. Nitsch, Capella University, United States
Capella University . Awarded
Despite an increasing population of adult learners attending online graduate programs, little is known about the how these students balance work and personal responsibilities along with their academic pursuits. As this population of non-traditional students attempt to integrate academically and socially into their new programs, as well as deal with commitments external to the university, the opportunity for stressful encounters can mount. This study examined the stressors, coping strategies, and use of social support of physical therapists in a post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy program. In a sample of 74 persisters and non-persisters, a web-based survey and a psychometric test (Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations) was completed. Qualitative data was collected from a purposeful sample of the survey respondents. Using descriptive statistics, the top stressors and major coping strategies of adult online learners was identified. Using one-way ANOVA tests, the results showed no significant difference when comparing the type of coping strategy and social support used by persisters and non-persisters. The perceived effectiveness of coping was significantly different between persisters and non-persisters, as well as the intensity of reported stressors and the satisfaction with social support from friends and co-workers. Qualitatively, persisters used goal commitment, seeking personal satisfaction, and prioritizing responsibilities as ways to overcome stressors. Emotional support, especially from spouses was valued for success in the program. Students' satisfaction with their social support, the intensity of their stressors, and the perceived effectiveness of their coping strategies can impact on academic performance and progress in the program. In order for adult online learners to succeed, the educational community needs to understand the stressors faced, know how to serve them, and minimize the barriers caused by online education and the situational barriers of work and family responsibilities.
Nitsch, W.B. Adult learner persistence in online graduate education: Stressors, coping strategies, and social support. Ph.D. thesis, Capella University.
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