Mature-age student coping strategies and their effect on engagement in online university study

PhD Thesis

Pettit, Desmond. 2021. Mature-age student coping strategies and their effect on engagement in online university study. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Mature-age student coping strategies and their effect on engagement in online university study

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorPettit, Desmond
SupervisorRedmond, Petrea
Abawi, Lindy­-Anne
Basson, Marita
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages511
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

This thesis identifies the approach taken by mature-age students in adapting and employing coping strategies in the online environment and investigates what impact those approaches have on student engagement. In establishing the necessary background for this study, the existing research within the literature was reviewed and used to identify that the tendency to focus on quantitative research methodologies represents a gap in the research approach taken to investigate student coping strategies and engagement. In addressing this gap, this thesis used semi-structured interviews of mature-age students participating online in their first year of study at the University of Southern Queensland as part of a descriptive phenomenology approach. This process allowed the students to describe their individual experiences of engagement and coping with online study. These pure descriptions, presented from an insider viewpoint, provide an alternative perspective to the existing literature and contribute to advancing the theoretical understanding of the relationship between using and modifying coping strategies and how this may impact engagement.

In analysing the participants' attitudes and feelings towards online study as described within the participant's responses, the following five themes were identified: the individual's characteristics, accommodating external factors, facilitating learning, engagement and success, and the value of discourse. These themes highlight that while all students face challenges in undertaking study, the challenges faced by mature-age students in the online environment represent a different set of issues and concerns, particularly concerning family, work and financial commitments. In response to the challenge of online study as a mature-age student, the participants demonstrated a high degree of coping flexibility but were not proactive in their coping behaviours. Instead, the participants were often resistant or slow to adapt their coping approach, relying more on a practice of perseverance in the face of potential failure. Consequently, the participants' employment of coping strategies often represented a mechanism to facilitate progress rather than enhance their study. It was also evident that, for the most part, the participants' engagement derived more from personal motivations than from inspiration derived from the presentation or nature of the course content.

KeywordsOnline, Mature­-Age, Coping Strategies, Engagement
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390303. Higher education
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Education
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