Factors Associated With Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A review of the literature

Carolyn Hart


This integrated literature review examined factors associated with the ability of students to persist in an online course. Lack of persistence in online education and its' consequence of attrition, is an identified problem within the United States and internationally. Terminology has wavered between persistence and success, where each has been interchangeably used to characterize a student that completes a course and continues to program completion. Separate searchers were conducted in Academic Search Premier, CINAHL Plus, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) Education Full Text, Ovid, and the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT). Search terms included persistence, distance education, and online learning. Inclusion criteria included published after 1999, article from a peer-reviewed journal, and article addresses student factors leading to persistence. Exclusion criteria included article not related to factors of persistence, no original data, and article not written in English or not related to online courses. Factors associated with student persistence in an online program include satisfaction with online learning, a sense of belonging to the learning community, motivation, peer, and family support, time management skills, and increased communication with the instructor. Persistence carries the nuance of complexity beyond mere success. Factors unrelated to knowledge have the ability to provide support, thus allowing the student to overcome hardships in completing a course. If persistence factors are not present in sufficient quantity, the student may be at risk of withdrawing from an online course.



This paper reviewed twenty studies on persistence in online education published between 1999 and the date of publication. In so doing, she noted a lack of consistency in the definition of persistence, stating that some studies examined persistence to the end of a course, others to the end of a program, and others examined the student’s “intent to return” (Berger and Braxton, 1998). Despite this, Hart finds several facilitators and barriers to persistence, as listed below:

College status and graduating term (students who are closer to graduation are more likely to persist)
Greater schedule flexibility
Greater goal commitment
Higher GPA
Greater satisfaction and perceived relevance of the course or degree program
Higher confidence and self-efficacy
Greater social connectedness
Emotional and technical support

Having an auditory learning style
Having more than basic computer skills
Difficulty in accessing resources
Social isolation
Lack of computer accessibility
Work and family commitments
Poor communication with program faculty and staff

APA Citation

Hart, C. (2012). Factors associated with student persistence in an online program of study: A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1).

About the Study

Links to Article http://itecideas.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/58620369/Factors%20Associated%20With%20Student%20Persistence%20in%20an%20Online%20Program%20of%20Study.pdf
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Journal of Interactive Online Learning
Type of Research Review of literature
Research Design Not applicable
Intervention/Areas of Study Student motivation, Student readiness, Student support
Level of Analysis Student-level, Course-level, Program-level
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates, Underrepresented - general
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 2-year institution, 4-year Institution, Associates-granting, Bachelors-granting, Masters-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Course completion, Degree attainment, Learning effectiveness, Persistence, Retention, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=16621630380994211125&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en