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Mature learners more likely to choose university courses that offer online or blended learning options

Universities could attract more mature learners by offering online or blended learning 


Mature learners are more likely to choose university courses that offer online or blended learning options, according to new research from the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO).

The research – which consisted of a literature review and survey experiment – reveals that mature learners also prefer providers who offer extra support, such as out-of-hours classes, extra academic support or a designated staff member.

Other key findings include a preference for practical considerations, such as courses with a shorter commute time, and a desire to attend higher-ranked institutions.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of TASO said:

“We know that mature students are more likely to drop out of their courses than younger students. We also know that mature students tend to have poorer degree outcomes. This study provides a valuable insight into what features of a course may drive mature students’ preference for, and overall inclination to enrol in undergraduate courses. I hope the findings act as a starting point for the sector to effectively engage this student group.”

Susannah Hume, Director of the Evidence Development and Incubation Team at King’s College London said:

“Higher education has an important, but under-recognised, role to play in lifelong learning. As higher education providers have looked to increase their proportion of mature students, many have struggled to know how to modify systems designed for school-leavers so that they are inclusive and attractive for older cohorts. I hope that this research will help the sector take an evidence-based approach to attracting and supporting mature students.” 

The survey experiment, conducted for TASO by theEvidence Development and Incubation Team at King’s College London, explored which institutional features are attractive to mature learners in order to understand how higher education providers can widen participation for this group of learners.

The experiment asked online research participants without an undergraduate qualification to rate different fictional higher education courses, depending on a range of attributes, such as size of course and timetabling options.

By comparing how participants rated different options, the experiment was able to extract insights about which course features were most important to them.

The sample was recruited via the online survey platformProlific. The final sample contained 2,449 respondents, who completed a total of 12,245 comparison tasks, viewing a total of 24,490 randomly generated course profiles.

The strength of the online and blended learning finding may reflect the context of the study which was run during the third national UK lockdown in January 2021.

The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) is a What Works Centre for the higher education sector, part of the Government’s What Works Movement. TASO focuses on eliminating equality gaps in higher education.  

TASO was set up in 2019 and is funded by the Office for Students on an initial grant until 2023. TASO is an independent charity and will be seeking ongoing funds from a range of sources. 

Before becoming a charity, TASO was managed by a consortium of King’s College London, Nottingham Trent University and the Behavioural Insights Team.

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