Why do so many adult learners dropout?

In 2018, Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer at Eduventures released an analytical report showing clear indications of a problem within current education trends. While the adoption of online learning for adult learners increased accessibility to accredited education, dropout rates were more frequently on the rise. It seemed that as online access to academic resources increased across a distributive spectrum of adult learners, the quality of graduation prospects started to drop.


MSU CEdEC (Continuing and Extended Education Centre) is leading the way in offering a clear answer to that question, as a 5-star rated adult learning centre with some of the highest graduation rates in Malaysia. While there are many factors involved with the dropout dilemma, a major answer to the pertinent question is in short, accountability and quality. Beyond that, many variations and possibilities make up a complex set of problems that can be associated with adult learners dropping out.

Affordability and Flexibility

Research findings of a recent Strada-Gallup Consumer Survey, which is part of a larger series of reports on individuals without degrees, includes interviews with over 40,000 adults ranging in age from 25 to 64 years old about why they dropped out of school and what it would take for them to return.

The survey uncovered a lot of important findings, a lot of which had to do with affordability and flexibility. The most prevalent reasons for leaving school, according to nearly one-third of participants, were financial pressures and difficulties juggling education, job, and young families. Those same people stated they would consider re-enrolling if those characteristics changed, such as lower or free tuition, flexible schedules, and assured job results, such as a better job or a raise.

MSU addresses these problems clearly through the initiatives present in CEdEC, which solves the issue of affordability by offering very competitive rates for enrolment in one of 160 plus courses available at the centre.  This, combined with an array of payment options including PTPTN loans makes CEdEC one of the most affordable and accessible learning centres for adults.

Likewise, MSU also empowers students at CEdEC with an optimal level of flexibility. This is a crucial step in ensuring that adults have the capacity to study at their own pace while juggling other aspects of their hectic lives. A Virtual Classroom feature is available for CEdEC members as an integral way for students to keep up with their course modules while not being physically present.

Support Systems for Quality

More than half of the adults polled felt they needed stronger advice, with academic and career counsellors rated as poor or fair. Those who received a degree, on the other hand, believed their advisors were good or excellent. About one-fifth of those polled indicated they didn’t think further schooling would help them advance in their careers. Many responded that if they do decide to return to school, they will most likely enrol in courses or training provided by their employers. Healthcare employees, for example, prefer this alternative.

In other words, adult learners require stronger support systems that offer a framework of accountability. In contrast, fully online courses leave students to study on their own completely without the ability to share or acquire knowledge from peers or academics.

CEdEC solves this problem by leveraging heavily on aspects like peer-to-peer networks so students can learn from peers with different backgrounds and work experience. They can share concerns, problems, and solutions with each other to create a better understanding of the ongoing course work. What’s more, CEdEC also recruits some of the most prolific professors and academics who hold PhDs in their respective fields. This is a crucial step in the right direction for providing quality education in an effective environment conducive for deep studies. 

The Adult Learning Theory

Malcolm Knowles is credited with popularising the view that adults add distinct features to the learning process. This work, often known as adult learning principles or adult learning theory, has strengths but also detractors.

Adult learning theory assumes that adults are obviously not like children. Their styles and preferences are influenced in a great way by the amount of maturity and experience they have collected over the course of their life. According to this theory, learning designers and educators can produce more effective and inspiring training by appealing to the particular characteristics of adult learners. The following is a list of generalised traits shared by many adult learners, but not all.

Autonomy: Adults, on the whole, prefer a sense of self-direction and control. In their learning environment, they want options and choices. Even individuals who are apprehensive about self-direction might grow to appreciate it with the right help.

Experience is the best teacher: Rather than listening to lectures, many individuals prefer to learn by doing.

Knowledge abounds: People develop a unique bank of information and experiences on their path from childhood to adulthood. They bring this breadth and depth of knowledge to the classroom.

Purposeful: Workplace training is frequently part of a change programme. Adults are interested in learning about the goal of training and the reason behind a company’s training endeavour.

Goal-oriented: Many folks have certain objectives they want to accomplish. They like to engage in learning activities that will assist them in achieving their objectives.

Results-oriented: Adults are focused on achieving their goals. They have particular expectations for what they will gain from learning activities, and if those expectations aren’t realised, they will likely abandon voluntary learning.

Responsibilities on the outside: The majority of adult learners have multiple responsibilities and commitments to their families, friends, communities, and workplace. Adult learners are affected by making time for learning.

Physical limits are a possibility: Adult learners may acquire psychomotor skills more slowly than younger students, depending on their age and physical health, and may have more difficulty reading small letters and perceiving small images on the computer screen.

The big picture: Adults need a big picture perspective on what they’re learning. They must understand how the minor elements integrate into the greater picture.

Self-responsibility: Adult learners frequently assume responsibility for their own learning success or failure.

Community: Many self-directed adult learners prefer to be part of a learning community where they may connect with others and discuss their concerns.

Practical: Adults in the workplace prefer practical information and experiences that make their jobs simpler or teach them valuable skills. To put it another way, people require personal relevance in their learning activities.

Competence and mastery: Adults enjoy gaining working abilities because it promotes their confidence and self-esteem.

Emotional Roadblocks: Adults may develop a phobia of a subject, anxiety about a subject, or resentment toward forced changes in job tasks or policies as a result of their experiences. These feelings can obstruct the learning process.

Ultimately, the reasons behind high attrition rates in the adult learning sector are both complicated and deep. While some of the factors based on Malcolm Knowles’s theory seem quite inevitable to an extent, the ability to refine and improve major aspects like flexibility and accountability is still very much achievable. In fact, MSU CEdEC is one learning centre that has done this by designing a balanced infrastructure that fosters high-quality education through a blended learning approach with the adult learner in mind.