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Can reflections on approaches to learning improve induction, performance and retention?

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  • Education


Many universities have part time and distance learning students. Providing a satisfactory induction and effective continued support as an individual progresses through their study are areas that pose considerable challenges but are nevertheless important to successful study. The consequences of not succeeding impact on the individual students as well as on the institution, and universities are looking for ways to improve. This study invited 400 part time distance learning students – early in their undergraduate or postgraduate programmes, from across a range of subject areas and six of the University’s eight faculties – to use a guided method of reflecting on their approaches to learning as a means of improving their induction and orientation to the institution and their programme of study. The structure of the study involved an online inventory to initiate the student’s reflection and thinking on a range of seven dimensions of lifelong learning and a focussed conversation with a trained tutor. A month later the inventory was repeated and a second, follow-up, conversation held with the same tutor. In addition to the evidence collected directly through the inventory and the recorded conversations, the tutors each wrote a personal report, and student scores and retention were tracked and compared with the whole of the relevant cohorts. In addition to the student-tutor interactions, the training of the dozen tutors involved formed an important strand within the study as this was carried out at as a synchronous group activity at a distance. This paper examines the results of this study and makes recommendations principally for the student induction process where students and staff are physically dispersed. It considers a range of practical issues that arise from engaging with tutors and students at a distance where the natural inclination would be to be face-to-face. The study is one of a series exploring the use of one framework of thinking about approaches to learning and this paper considers the results within the context of the series.

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