Perceptions of the Persistent: Engagement and Learning Community in Underrepresented Populations

Wendy Athens


In an effort to characterize perceptions of learning community and engagement in relation to success for underrepresented populations of online learners at a public institution in southeastern United States, a survey was conducted in Spring 2016. The results of the survey were paired with institutional data to create a baseline engagement and learning community profile for the online student population, which comprised 22% of total enrollments. The subpopulations of interest were: Age, gender, race/ethnicity, disability, Pell grant eligibility, first-generation, and orphan. For all students, a very strong positive relationship was observed between student perceptions of engagement and learning community and student outcomes (grades). This strong and positive relationship was confirmed across the subpopulations, but there were a few noteworthy exceptions:  Hispanic and Black students were more engaged than Whites, but earned lower grades. Younger students and students with disabilities were less engaged than their counterparts, but earned equivalent grades. These patterns corresponded to withdrawal statistics, which revealed a higher percentage of young minority males withdrawing from online courses.


Attrition, diversity, engagement, first-generation, gender, learning community, online, orphan, race, retention, social presence

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