What factors contribute to learner success?

by | August 4, 2008

Learners present several factors that may be considered predictors of success in their chosen doctoral program. Persistence and flexibility are two that I stress with my learners as necessary traits that will contribute not only to success, but to a better learner experience. Persistence implies that one will “stick to it”, regardless of internal or external barriers that may come up. Flexibility implies that if something changes in mid-stream, one can adapt and move in a new direction.

There are individuals who struggle when life throws them a curve ball. Perhaps they have an emergency with family, or maybe they have missed a very important deadline with an assignment. How they manage these matters may very much impact how they progress through an academic program! For many of our learners, their public school, undergraduate, and masters’ experiences were smooth and trouble-free. Perhaps they sailed through their programs never having truly been challenged. Then, they face a faculty member at the doctoral level who tells them they need to improve their writing or critical thinking. How do they manage this critical (and necessary) feedback?

Some resist: “It can’t be me, so it must be the PhD who is wrong”. Some shut down: “Clearly I cannot make it in this program.” Some receive the information and reflect upon it: “I see where I didn’t do “x”, and really need to incorporate this more going forward.” Doctoral work is different from any MS program learners have completed, and our hope is that when faced with feedback that they may not like, the learner will stop and think, rather than simply react. Then, they can make informed decisions devoid of emotion (which potentially makes their decisions more objective and rational). This is a hallmark of scholarship!

Flexibility comes in to play when learners are able to adapt to meet challenges that they face. Think of it this way: when you have a roadblock in front of you, do you sit there and wait for someone to move it? Do you shift into 4-wheel drive and go over or through it? Or do you find a detour that may add a few minutes to your journey, but get you where you need to be? Often, we face learners who may be rigid in how they manage their programs: “I will be complete in 2 years, including dissertation.” Or, “I will have a 4.0 GPA when I graduate.” No value judgments, here, however these are often unrealistic expectations at the doctoral level for all but a few individuals. This may contribute to some real challenges for learners who cannot/will not adjust their plans.

Learner success is driven by learners, with a supporting cast of Capella staff and faculty. We provide the tools for learners to be successful in this challenging doctoral world, all the while upholding academic integrity and standards. This can be a struggle at times for even the most persistent, flexible learner!

Think of what it looks like if a learner is persistent but not flexible? Would they keep doggedly head-butting the detour to get it out of their way without making any small changes in their approach? Is this helpful?

Conversely, if a learner is flexible but not persistent, how would that look? How likely is it that this learner would struggle with decision-making, or with staying the course in their program?

Can you come up with examples where you have demonstrated both persistence and flexibility in your program?

Johnna Williams