Students taught by traditional methods are less likely to contemplate dropping out of university, according to a new study.
The paper, published in the journal Teaching in Higher Education, used data from an institutional survey to look at the academic experiences of those who withdraw early from university.
“We found that students who said they were taught mainly based on lectures, the traditional model, were less likely to contemplate withdrawing early from university,” according to Oliver Webb, educational developer at the University of Plymouth and a co-author of the paper.
The research, which looked at the experiences of 1,170 students surveyed at one UK university, also showed that there was a direct correlation between contemplating withdrawal and actual withdrawal, which backed up previous studies’ findings, Dr Webb said.
He added that he found it surprising that students were more likely to stay if they were given more traditional teaching methods, “as you would have thought that more contemporary approaches to teaching would mean people were less likely to drop out”.
Recently there has been a surge in universities and teaching leaders exploring new approaches to learning, such as through the “flipped classroom” and blended learning. Advocates say that students absorb knowledge better via these methods, rather than simply sitting in a lecture theatre.
“It could be to do with the expectations people have when they arrive at universities,” Dr Webb told Times Higher Education. “Students who arrive expecting the traditional lecture-based approach might find more active methods of participation a bit of a shock to the system.”
Usually studies about early withdrawal from higher education focus on social and demographic factors, such as gender, race and geographic region. But Dr Webb said that this research wanted to take advantage of a large institution-wide study, which gave researchers the ability to look at the academic experience and the link to early withdrawal.
The study also found that low levels of one-to-one contact with teaching staff were linked to students contemplating withdrawal. Although students had strong opinions on large class sizes and perceptions of personal tutoring support, these were not found to correlate to early withdrawal.
The findings highlight the difference between personal tutoring and one-to-one interaction with teaching staff, Dr Webb said. “It seems that it is course related discussions that students want, to help them refine their understanding and knowledge, and I’m not sure that a lot of universities are quite hitting that: we’ve got teaching through large lectures and personal tutoring, but we need something in the middle,” he said.
This suggests that “a different model of delivery, where we try to get lots of one-to-one contact that can sit alongside the continued use of large lectures, would be useful”, Dr Webb added.