The Evolving Military Learner Population: A Review of the Literature

Kate Ford, Karen Vignare


This literature review examines the evolving online military learner population with emphasis on current generation military learners, who are most frequently Post-9/11 veterans. The review synthesizes recent scholarly and grey literature on military learner demographics and attributes, college experiences, and academic outcomes against a backdrop of conceptual frameworks addressing adult transition theory, learner persistence, and institutional responsiveness. Military learner demographics and academic risk profiles are most similar to nontraditional, first generation learners, although military learners face additional challenges associated with service-connected injuries and disabilities. Like other nontraditional learners juggling work, family, and academic responsibilities, military learners have become increasingly reliant on online learning. Intersecting community memberships, role identities, and commitments often complicate the transition to college and perceived sense of fit, a finding more pronounced in studies involving military learners attending campuses predominately serving traditional students. The significant lack of research examining online military learners limited further comparative analysis.

Overall, current research suggests military learners adapt and persist in college by drawing upon deeply engrained military traits and tendencies, including self-discipline, mission-first focus, and reliance on fellow military learners. A few studies have suggested that institutional support systems for military learners, such as offering customized services and courses online, contributed to learner satisfaction and persistence. A growing number of institutions have adopted military-friendly approaches to program and service delivery since the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008. Yet impact findings were mostly anecdotal. Confirming these findings requires additional quantitative empirical research with larger and more precisely defined population samples. As technology continues to blur previously sharp distinctions between face-to-face and online learning, the next wave of military learner research must focus on military learner retention models encompassing multiple learning modes and delivery methods, institutional student supports needed to enhance success, understanding military learner paths through multiple institutions, and population samples that provide generalizable information about military learners.


Military learners, literature review, retention, persistence, institutional responsiveness, student veterans

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