Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Maureen Ellis


This qualitative case study examined the lack of success by and high attrition rates of adult learners enrolled in online higher education courses at a public research university in the southeastern United States. The conceptual framework integrated Knowles' theory of andragogy with a composited model that combined elements of Tinto's persistence model with Bean and Metzner's student attrition model. The research questions examined factors and characteristics contributing to the unsuccessful completion of online courses for adult learners. The data were collected in 2 separate phases using a purposeful sample comprised of 152 adult learners who volunteered to participate in the study and had enrolled in an online course at the university between the fall 2013 and spring 2015. The findings revealed that factors such as work-related issues, lack of time management, and personal issues contributed to students' unsuccessful completion of online courses. Additionally, the participants' success depended on their strengths and weaknesses with time management skills, motivation and dedication, technological skills, and communication skills in online learning. The findings were used to create a pre-orientation workshop designed to assist adult learners prior to taking their first online course by assessing student readiness levels for online learning and identifying deficiencies in skills required to be successful. Offering a pre-orientation workshop session to first-time online adult learners will increase their likelihood of success and foster a positive effect on social change in this population by improving retention in an online learning environment.