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Persistence, Perseverance, and Success (PPS): A Case Study to Describe Motivational Factors That Encourage Zimbabwe Open University ODL Students to Enroll, Persist, and Graduate With Master's and Doctorate Credentials


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The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe motivational factors that increased open distance learning (ODL) students’ capacity to successfully graduate with master’s and doctoral credentials. Study background revealed that Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) persistently experiences increased levels of student dropout and competition from conventional universities that introduce ODL through “block-release” programs. We used a descriptive qualitative research approach to collect and analyze data—hence, data collection through audio-recorded open-ended semi-structured interviews helped to maintain accurate accounts of data. We presented data through themed reporting enhanced by direct quotes from participants. Our research broadly concluded that once participants registered to study, perceived attention from various social angles created immense motivational factors ranging from institution motivators, personal factors, and social-generated motivators such as fear of what society would think of them all motivated them to persist and graduate with proposed credentials.
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DOI: 10.1177/2158244014544291
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Background to the Study
Since 1980, the current Zimbabwe administration made the
goal of achieving access to college a central theme of its edu-
cation policy as it relates to adult students across demo-
graphic groups. In the last two decades, The Zimbabwe
Ministry of Education policy focused on what literature
refers to as “more on college access and college completion”
(Kelly, Schneider, & Carey, 2010, p. 32). The late Minister of
Higher Education Dr. Stan Mudenge extended the content of
the Zimbabwe Higher Education Policy to include college
access by increasing the number of colleges, universities,
and students who enroll for college education. Available data
reveal that in some areas around Zimbabwe, due to previous
education policies and uneven cultural tendencies “raising
the college completion rates of poor students [may be] criti-
cal to achieving that goal” (Kelly et al., 2010, p. i). In gen-
eral, experts in the field of higher education and open distance
learning (ODL) in particular consistently agree that college
education may best be achieved by improving the quality of
education through effective instruction and allowing as many
students as possible access to higher education levels
(Brookfield, 2005; Kelly et al., 2010).
For many years, there has been interest in the field of adult
education in teacher quality, effective instruction, and the impact
of these on learner success. The offices of adult education . . . in
the . . . Department of Higher Education . . . play[ed] a leadership
role in providing resources to enhance teacher quality and guide
the improvement of adult education programs. (Center for Adult
Language Acquisition Network, 2010, p. 1)
544291SGOXXX10.1177/2158244014544291SAGE OpenMadhlangobe et al.
1Zimbabwe Open University, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Corresponding Author:
Lewis Madhlangobe, Zimbabwe Open University, Cnr. 12 & Fort Street,
Bulawayo Central, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Persistence, Perseverance, and
Success (PPS): A Case Study to
Describe Motivational Factors
That Encourage Zimbabwe Open
University ODL Students to Enroll,
Persist, and Graduate With Master’s
and Doctorate Credentials
Lewis Madhlangobe1, Jennifer Chikasha1, Onias Mafa1,
and Primrose Kurasha1
The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe motivational factors that increased open distance learning (ODL)
students’ capacity to successfully graduate with master’s and doctoral credentials. Study background revealed that Zimbabwe
Open University (ZOU) persistently experiences increased levels of student dropout and competition from conventional
universities that introduce ODL through “block-release” programs. We used a descriptive qualitative research approach
to collect and analyze data—hence, data collection through audio-recorded open-ended semi-structured interviews helped
to maintain accurate accounts of data. We presented data through themed reporting enhanced by direct quotes from
participants. Our research broadly concluded that once participants registered to study, perceived attention from various
social angles created immense motivational factors ranging from institution motivators, personal factors, and social-generated
motivators such as fear of what society would think of them all motivated them to persist and graduate with proposed
persistence, success, motivational factors, and open distance learning (ODL)
2 SAGE Open
This quote emphasizes important issues that may be
related to educating adult students in Zimbabwe:
a. Accepting that adult education forms an important link
between high school education and the workforce.
b. Adult educators, especially ODL should develop
deeper understanding of how adult students learn.
c. Adult educators across Zimbabwe should focus on
developing instructional models for increasing num-
bers and quality of graduates from universities, so that
they produce quality teachers and educational admin-
istrators primary and secondary education leading
achievement of true spirit of college access and col-
lege success for all Zimbabweans.
The current Zimbabwean policy position and approach to
higher education has set the tone for continuous reshaping of
instructional strategies to continuously improve. The call for
improved instructional strategies is also supported by
research findings recommending that
during an era of heightened accountability for education
programs, teachers, and students, and with the connection
between teacher preparation and student outcomes well
established in primary to university education field should be
able to demonstrate that the teaching workforce is qualified,
competent, and able to meet the learning needs of a diverse
group of learners. The university teaching field must therefore
achieve a consensus on strategies for creating enabling learning
environments for students. (Smith, 2006, p. 165)
As university education plays a collaborative role with,
and supports a number of other social and educational are-
nas—workforce training, correctional education, civic educa-
tion, high school education, and social services—policy
related to higher education should influence how university
resources and capabilities are developed and managed (Smith,
2006). So, from this standpoint, understanding struggles
related to acquiring a university qualification from among
ODL students should be viewed as a critical component for
achieving excellence and the intended collaborative role
between and among institutions. However, achieving this
goal may depend on how players in ODL education under-
stand and conceptualize tutoring in adult education. Literature
points to a common hypothesis that ODL students exhibit
learning behaviors that tutors should understand to achieve
improved influence on student learning (Goldrick, 2009;
Richardson, 2002). Knowledge of how adult ODL students
adjust to learning demands “is the means by which educators
acquire or enhance their skills . . . attitudes, and beliefs neces-
sary to create high levels of learning for all students” (National
Staff Development Council [NSDC], 2001, p. 2). This implies
that tutoring approaches in ODL should be guided by “high
quality, sustained, intensive, and student focused [instruc-
tional approaches] in order to have a positive and lasting
impact on . . . students’ performance” (Lowden, 2005, p. 2).
Theoretical Frameworks Guiding ODL
and Tutoring
We are not inventing the wheel anew—This study builds and
rests on the base of theories that guide adult education. In this
article, authors view and understand ODL from a number of
well researched and established theoretical frameworks on
andragogy including Knowles, (1980a), Knowles (1980b),
Bodrova and Leong (2004), and Brookfield (2005). Our study
is grounded in two such frameworks including the critical
theory (CT) and the constructivist theories. First, we discuss
how the critical theoretical frameworks relate to adult educa-
tion, influencing student persistence and success.
Critical Theoretical Framework
Shaping Adult Learning
The first of such overarching theoretical framework is CT,
which includes the coalition pedagogy as an extension of CT
(Brookfield, 2005; Freire, 1980). As Brookfield (2005) pos-
its, critical ideology
comprises the set of broadly accepted beliefs and practices that
frame how people make sense of their experiences and live their
lives. When it works effectively, it [CT] ensures that an unequal,
racist, and sexist society is able to reproduce itself with minimal
opposition. (Brookfield, 2005, p. viii)
CT accepts that education is the best vehicle for individu-
als’ understanding of how their current situation is shaped by
dominant society and culture (Brookfield, 2005; Vygotsky,
1978). Therefore, it is important to help adults to understand
that it is possible to identify personal levels of oppression and
when necessary—to challenge the status quo in world
democracies (Brookfield, 1987). In this study, oppression, as
a CT concept, should be understood as that state of mind dur-
ing which individual adult students experience a barrier
between achieving a desired goal and not achieving it. The
barrier, according to CT, is a gap caused by lack of skills and
knowledge to achieve that desired goal. CT, therefore,
accepts the notion that instructional approaches should be
used to bridge that gap. When not resolved, the lack of skills
and knowledge may be used as a tool for continuously repro-
ducing highly unequal societies in which racism, class dis-
crimination, and economic inequalities of the dominant
society are accepted as normal, natural, and inevitable. When
applied in the context of ODL, CT can help tutors to provide
students with skills that help them change their statuses and
help arm them with the skills to recognize discourses
oppressing them and improve the social order (Delgado &
Stefancic, 2001).
As a framework for shaping the way ODL tutors respond
to their students’ needs, critical theorists advocate for tutors
who are capable of providing ODL students with the knowl-
edge, skills and develop attitudes that help the ODL students
succeed in democratic, collectivist environments (Freire &
Madhlangobe et al. 3
Macebo, 1995). It is this lack of knowledge about how to
achieve something that critical theorists define as an indi-
vidual’s feeling of some level of oppression (Freire, 1994).
Therefore, when tutors succeed in helping such students dis-
cover the how tos of students become liberated from that
level of “oppression.” Literature identifies various strengths
of how CT may help the formulation of tutoring, counseling,
and advising strategies to empower ODL students to enroll in
and succeed in higher education institutions.
CT starts from the premise that knowledge is always in
motion, hence tutoring approaches that are shaped through
principles of CT help lecturers to understand the concept of
dialectical process—that is, because knowledge is always in
motion, ODL adult students will always return to college to
seek specific higher education skills (Brookfield, 2005).
Providing students with adequate and appropriate skills,
knowledge, and attitudes to meet those needs emancipates
them from the false appearance of an oppressive realty (Peca,
2000). It is through this process of emancipation that adult
students may realize the gains of attaining higher education
and hence the motivation to learn. To emancipate them, ODL
students need to continuously engage in critical thinking at
all three levels, including self-critiquing, critiquing the cur-
rent situation and critiquing historical factors related to that
oppression (Brookfield, 2005). According to Brookfield
central to critical thinking is placing one’s own situation in a
broader context, so that aspects of one’s problems are seen as
connected to broader social forces. Helping people explore the
often contradictory and ambiguous nexus where private troubles
and public issues meet often entails making clear the connection
to social action. (p. 62)
According to CT literature, results from all forms of cri-
tiquing may lead to a new knowledge which must lead to
change. That change, according to CT of education, refers to
a cognitive movement of the individual from one level of
knowing to a higher level of knowing (Brookfield, 1987). It
is this new level of knowing that CTs in education refer to as
removing oppression—which happens as a result of the indi-
vidual’s ability to transform their self-consciousness so that
they are able to ascertain best responses they need to make to
bring themselves to the same level with the rest of the society
(Brookfield, 2005).
One specific question that this study investigated was how
do Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) graduate students
view the factors that ODL graduate programs demonstrate
to persevere and succeed? CT accepts that reality is created
when individuals purposely seek new knowledge by continu-
ously reflecting on an ideal concept to discover what is
beyond that current reality (Brookfield, 2005). Therefore, for
critical theorists, in ODL the goal is to increase the levels of
knowledge to practitioners about their students—who are
they, what characteristics do they have now, what has been
their historical context, what are they trying to become, what
is in it for them, how will they look like—attitudes, behaviors,
skills, and knowledge soon after learning from these profes-
sionals? These questions are best answered through a critical
thinking process. From a critical thinking perspective, coali-
tion pedagogy invites ODL tutors to ask themselves the fol-
lowing nine questions central to how adult students learn:
[1] How do adults learn forms of reasoning that challenge
dominant ideology and question social, cultural, and political
forms that ideology justifies? [2] How do adults learn to interpret
their experiences in ways that emphasize their connectedness to
others and lead them to see the need for solidarity and collective
organization? [3] How do adults learn to unmask flow of power
in their lives and communities? [4] How do adults learn of the
existence of hegemony—the process whereby people learn to
embrace ideas, practices, and institutions that actually work
against their own interests—and their own complicity in its
continued existence? [5] Once they are aware of it, how do they
contest its all-pervasive effects? [6] How do adults learn to
defend the life-world (the set of understandings and assumptions
that frame how people live with each other) and civil society
(the relationships, associations, and institutions not directly
under state control within which people form relationships and
develop identities)? [7] How do adults learn to think critically by
recognizing when an embrace of alternative views is actually
supporting the status quo it appears to be challenging? [8] How
do adults learn to recognize, accept, and exercise whatever
freedom they have to change the world? [9] How do adults learn
the practice of democracy with all its contradictions and
disciplines? (Brookfield, 2005, p. 31)
Connecting Constructivist Theoretical
Frameworks to ODL
The second broad theoretical framework that addresses the
needs of ODL students is the constructivist theory, which
consists of two complementary theories—social constructiv-
ism and the psychological constructivism. Constructivist
theories guide understanding of how learning among adults
takes place, first within a social context and then from an
individual context (Phillips, 2000). According to construc-
tivism, ODL students can make sense of a situation as indi-
viduals and in groups (Bodrova & Leong, 2004). When
linked to adult students, the history of constructivism reveals
that there are still some unanswered questions in the con-
structivist theory literature such as how may constructivism
be applied to ODL tutoring and/or administration? However,
as a theory guiding instruction, constructivism reveals a
close relationship between characteristics of how adult stu-
dents learn and how they should be taught (Richardson,
Constructivism as a theory explains how learning occurs
among adults, and accepts that individual students “create
their own new understandings on the basis of an interaction
between what they already know and believe and ideas and
4 SAGE Open
knowledge with which they come into contact” (Richardson,
2003, p. 1624). Similar to this study, the broad questions that
constructivists aim to answer are why do adult students seek
education? How do adult students especially those in ODL
persist and succeed? Two interdependent approaches to the
constructivist theory include the social aspects of the class-
room, which Phillips (2000) calls the social constructionist
or social constructivism, and another, directly related to how
adult students learn—the psychological aspects of the class-
room—or the psychological constructivism. Both frame-
works have a bearing on how ODL tutors should view
instruction of adult students.
Social Constructivism
This accepts that any form of knowledge or discipline that
adult students may possess are constructed on the basis that
include “politics, ideologies, values, the exertion of power
and the preservation of status, religious beliefs, and eco-
nomic self-interest” (Phillips, 2000, p. 6). As a philosophical
framework that may be used to guide tutoring strategies, the
social constructivism approach describes ways in which
power, the economy of a country, political, and/or social fac-
tors may influence ways through which individuals under-
stand and make sense of the social and economic contexts in
which they live (Richardson, 2003). The social constructiv-
ism framework encourages ODL tutors to engage students,
so that they continuously view their own contexts in relation
to that of the other students, and then seek to continuously
improve themselves in relation to others, because they will
always see new reality in the context of others. The role of
the ODL tutors should be to foster collaborative learning
communities to motivate students to learn through reflection
of their ideas in the context of how others view similar ideas
(Vygotsky, 1978).
Psychological Constructivism
A constructivist perspective related to learning views knowl-
edge construction in relation to the developmental learning
theory which says that
individual learners actively construct the meaning around
phenomena, and that these constructions are idiosyncratic
[personal], depending in part on the learner’s background
knowledge. The development of meaning may take place within
a social group that affords its individual members the opportunity
to share and provide warrant for these meanings. If the
individuals with the group come to an agreement about the
nature and warrant of a description of a phenomenon or its
relationship to others, these meanings become formal
knowledge. (Richardson, 2003, p. 1625)
Both the psychological and social theories agree that when
tutors facilitate learning among students, they should base
their mentorship on the understanding that adult students
create meaning through active contact with other students on
the basis of their background knowledge (Bodrova & Leong,
2004). This psychological context suggests that tutors develop
deeper understanding of grouping students according to
diverse understandings of issues, paying attention to individ-
ual needs of ODL students. The implication for this research
project is that for ODL tutors to guide their students in a con-
structivist manner, they should move away from the model of
teaching to the model of facilitating learning (Richardson,
2003). Five specific constructivist practitioner characteristics
that define successful facilitating approaches include the
1. Creating student centered facilitation for individual
learners including respecting adult students’ back-
grounds, values, and beliefs.
2. Facilitating group dialogue. Grouping helps students
to explore their own ideas in relation to what others
know, leading to creation of shared meaning.
3. Providing students with opportunities for questioning
adds new ideas by engaging people around them—
through critical questioning.
4. Developing metacognitive awareness—helps stu-
dents to understand how they learn.
5. Making reference to resources where students can
find more information—groups, websites, reference
books, and experts.
The frameworks advocate for tutors to understand stu-
dents’ learning needs and characteristics of ODL students
and to modify their andragogic strategies to help students
succeed. Both frameworks suggest that there should be a
tutor–apprentice/expert–learner relationship between the
tutor and ODL student. The constructivist theory extends
this notion by adding that ODL tutors should understand the
diversity and cultures of their students because ODL stu-
dents participate in adult educational programs for specific
reasons and are motivated by a need to pick up skills that
help them become employable again. In this context, tutors
of adult students should focus on developing deeper knowl-
edge of ODL students’ characteristics and needs to effec-
tively guide their responses to learning needs (Knowles,
Characteristics of Adult Education
Adult students exhibit characteristics that tutors should
understand to succeed with them during tutoring (Knowles,
1980b). For example, regarding their development,
adults and children differ in global learning processes. In
particular, unlike children, adults participate voluntarily in
education, have specific reasons for enrolling in classes, and are
often self directed learners . . . Differences between adults and
Madhlangobe et al. 5
children suggest that even educators who are highly experienced
in teaching children to read and write need special training.
(Perin, 1999, p. 611)
A summary of some of these characteristics as they relate
to how ODL adult students learn as discussed by Knowles
(1980b) includes the following:
They Are Self-Directed Learners
Most adult students enroll in classes for specific reasons and
they possess the potential to make decisions that affect them.
During learning, adult students may independently complete
certain scholastic assignments, but in some situations they
need to collaborate with others.
They Acquired a Range of Life Experiences
Generally, adult students possess wide-ranging experiences
related to how they process information, understand issues,
and respond to learning situations and how they carry out
tasks. Their past experiences and challenges, including suc-
cesses that students previously experienced, shape how they
respond to instruction. Because the aggregate effect of these
experiences constitutes the building blocks of new knowl-
edge, adult students use them to influence their abilities and
willingness to take risks, try new strategies and move their
ways of knowing to higher levels (Dembo & Seli, 2008). The
question that remains unanswered from literature is how do
ODL students who graduate with a master’s and/or doctor-
ate credential describe the factors that encourage them to
persist and finally graduate?
They Acquired a Fully Developed Vocabulary
Literature reveals that adult students demonstrate fully
developed and functional oral vocabulary that allows them to
communicate efficiently with tutors and other students
(Knowles, 1980b). Therefore, adult ODL students are capa-
ble of functioning reflexively—using past experiences to
communicate their opinions on current topics during learn-
ing. One clear implication for this characteristic to ODL
tutors is ODL tutors should demonstrate deeper understand-
ing of how their students use past knowledge to solve prob-
lems, share ideas; and on that basis, foster collaborative
learning contexts that promote continuity.
Continuously Experience Ongoing Developmental
Adult students continuously progress through developmental
stages throughout their adult years, including but not limited
to (a) changes in vision and hearing around ages 35 to 40, (b)
females experiencing reduced levels of physical energy and
menopause, (c) experiencing general health problems, and
(d) experiencing signs of memory gaps (Knowles, 1980b).
Learn Better by Solving Problems
Andragogy and other models of adult learning theories view
adult students’ experiences as resources and stimulus for
learning. Constructivism extends this understanding, sug-
gesting that adult students learn better during interaction
with learning materials that address their lived experiences
as they relate to learning topics. Adult students try to keep
abreast with current events; they prefer learning situations
that encourage responsibility for fixing things that go wrong,
locating missing information, and solving the problems and
dilemmas of daily existence.
Their Past Experiences Shape Learning Attitudes
Adult students observe, make decisions, and respond to
assignments or events occurring around them using past
experiences related to successes, but they avoid using past
experiences references associated with failure (Vella, 2002).
Purpose of the Study and Research
The purpose of this study was to identify and describe factors
that influence ODL students persist and succeed to graduate
with higher degrees credentials. The study was guided by the
question: How do ZOU doctoral and master’s graduate stu-
dents describe the factors that encouraged them to persist
and succeed in their studies?
Significance of the Study
Published findings from this study have potential to influ-
ence tutoring approaches for ODL students. Students who
seek education through ODL will benefit from improved
tutorship approaches. Policy on student recruitment and part-
time tutor recruitment will be shaped by responsive needs of
ODL students. This study has a huge potential to influence
quality of ZOU graduates once tutors embrace use of respon-
sive approaches to meet learning needs of students.
Volunteering participants—including five doctoral and six
master’s graduates from around the 10 political regions of
Zimbabwe—informed this study. The six (6) master’s
degree holder participants included four female and two
male graduates. There was one female and three male PhD
graduate participants. All participants were invited to volun-
teer through e-mail invitation by one co-researcher who
works at the central office of ZOU.
6 SAGE Open
Research Methods
Guided by the interpretative and grounded theory approaches,
we focused on data analysis approaches from the perspec-
tives of the participants’ view of making sense of the data.
We triangulated data analysis approaches by grounding our
research questions on how the respondents grounded their
understanding of the phenomenon under investigation.
Therefore, for this study we embraced the discovery approach
to understanding the similarities of experiences based on the
notion that when grounded in the views of the participants,
we as researchers needed to triangulate data analysis
approaches by asking participants to provide their views on
why certain behaviors and beliefs are important to their suc-
cess. To discover the reasons for persistence, we asked par-
ticipants the interpretive questions encouraging them to
describe to us why certain strategies were viewed as a key to
their success, and how they used the strategies to unlock the
challenges they encountered throughout their studies. We
also wanted to know how participants knew that in the
absence of those strategies they felt they would not have suc-
ceeded. The interpretative approach as a qualitative approach
to research suggests that when conducting research, research-
ers should strategically aim to “understand what things mean,
how they happen, and the different ways in which the world
[of the participants] may be understood” (Madhlangobe &
Gordon, 2012, p. 181).
Data Collection Instruments-Interviews
Research literature commonly identifies interviews as criti-
cal instruments for collecting data that clearly describe the
phenomenon being studied. We interviewed only individuals
who enrolled and successfully completed higher degrees cre-
dentials with ZOU—an ODL institution in Zimbabwe. We
also followed up leads of any other sources that were men-
tioned as motivators during the interviews.
Archival Data
In this study, we also collected historical artifacts and stories
of the participants, and after reviewing them, followed up
with personalized interviews. We requested participants to
provide written narratives of the persistent power and moti-
vational force of any artifact mentioned for their successful
Data Capturing, Analysis, and
We recorded data from interviews using MP3 voice record-
ers and then transcribed data into word documents. Next, we
read through, combed and coded all data for themes and cat-
egories that describe the factors encouraging students’ per-
sistence. To make sense of data from the artifacts, we
interpreted the data during the interviews with the partici-
pants by asking them a standard follow-up question: How did
that help you to persist and succeed?
Ethical Considerations
We used pseudonyms to identify participants. However,
there is a possibility that ZOU doctoral students may be iden-
tifiable to people since very few graduated with ZOU PhDs.
Findings and Discussion
The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify and
describe factors that motivated master’s and graduate stu-
dents to enroll, persist, and successfully graduate with mas-
ter’s and doctoral credentials from an ODL institution.
Results revealed that successful ZOU doctoral and master’s
candidates do more than just study to graduate. In this con-
text, ZOU ODL graduates who participated in this study
revealed that they had to deal with hurdles that include time
management, socioeconomic hurdles, stress factors, confu-
sion, lack of resources, family, and other social responsibili-
ties that bring a number of anxieties and stressors with the
potential to cause students to fail or dropout. Similarly, find-
ings from our study reveal that students who succeeded
under these conditions experienced a number of motivators
and used a number of persistent strategies that helped them
to persevere and prevail under similar institutional condi-
tions that caused other students to dropout or fail. Factors
described during the interviews fell into three broad catego-
ries, including (a) individual student characteristics, (b) insti-
tutional-related characteristics, and (c) other external factors.
Specific themes running through all three categories include
personal need/actualization, family culture of persisting dur-
ing studying, feeling of belonging to academic cohort cre-
ated by ZOU, students’ ability to integrate into the academic
community, interpersonal relationships, perceptions and
expectations from family/community, fear of failure, per-
sonal accountability toward own family, favorable condi-
tions for study (study groups, availability of modules and
personal space), and perceived new status.
Individual Student Characteristics
The Relationship Between Student Engagement
and Family Background
Some students’ characteristics and family backgrounds
helped ensure participants’ persistence and graduation with
credentials. One finding for this category regards female
graduate participants. Reflections from one interview with
the only doctoral female graduate revealed among many oth-
ers that she was a single-female parent who had issues to
juggle with in addition to her studies. Family emerged as a
key motivator that ensured that in addition to supporting
Madhlangobe et al. 7
children, the female student maintained close relationships
with ODL study groups. The graduate mentioned persistent
sickness related to age that sometimes confined her to her
bed. However, colleagues would team up and go to her house
to conduct their study group sessions from her bedside.
Female Doctoral Graduate: I made my presentation in that
condition, and you’ll be surprised how my friends, all males
took notes from that presentation. I had to ask them; please tell
me, am I making real sense right now? They said “go on we will
tell you when you’re about to die . . . ” That was really something
it made me feel one of them . . . I really felt like I was an
important part of this academic community. They needed me—
but I know I needed them more that time . . .
This reflection is very significant to this study, because it
reveals that both she and her male counterparts understood
that success is achieved through study groups, driven by a
high sense of belonging and need for participation. The
result also indicates that cultural gender role-challenges that
affect females vary significantly when compared with those
that affect male students. However, this finding requires fur-
ther research that examines cultural gender role differences
and how they affect student persistence and matriculation
within cultures.
Student Personal Motivation Factors,
Characteristics, and Family Background
Health-related factors. Consistent with other findings from
reviewed literature (Trockel, Barnes, & Egget, 2000), our
research findings reveal that health contributes to students’
academic performance by affecting students’ participation
levels in ODL-related activities that determine students’
graduation outcomes and course grades obtained by adult
students. This finding adds to existing literature in that avail-
able research literature was carried out in first world coun-
tries and reveals that exercising is important for adult
students, while ODL students in Zimbabwe deal with some
of their health issues only by consulting doctors and persist-
ing under the cultural beliefs that regardless of health, com-
munity, and family members view health issues as a weak
excuse for dropping out or failing. One participant summa-
rized his belief in the following way:
Master’s Graduate: Not in Zimbabwe, we don’t really have
that kind of belief. In my community, people may take issues of
health failure as evidence of someone in the family using magic
to pull you down so you have to struggle with that. Sometimes
they will tell you, ah . . . so you want to pretend so that you have
good reasons for your failures? Money is hard to come buy . . .
you just have to soldier on and that’s how I take it . . . So taking
my scholarly time away from complete engagement with my
study hours simply to go and run around chasing wild winds may
be seen by the community as an unproductive way to justify
time away from studies . . . Indeed for us master’s students it
may pull down our degree class . . . so I don’t want any excuses.
Congruent to this finding, Trockel et al. (2000) found that
in conventional universities, adult “students who exercised 7
or more hours a week obtained significantly lower grades than
students who exercised 6 or fewer hours weekly or not at all
. . . ” (p. 126). The difference between our current research find-
ings and those from the Trockel et al. research is that earlier
findings were delimited to Western cultural contexts that used
a sample from a conventional setting. Our study extends exist-
ing literature relating to (a) results in the Zimbabwean ODL
contexts, (b) findings describe mature adult learners who suc-
ceed in ODL settings, and (c) that students in our context deal
with issues similar to those in western countries in addition to
shortage of recent literature and limited access to technology.
Personal need or convenience. One motivating variable for
participants’ high levels of success was their intrinsic need to
benefit from contact hours with tutors or supervisors of
research projects. Students reported fulfilling most sched-
uled tutor–student contact hours despite job-related responsi-
bilities, age-related health issues, and expected parental roles
that normally affect participation levels. For example, as stu-
dents at times had to make choices between conflicting reli-
gious and academic-related interests. Participants reported
having to alternate attending weekend-church and weekend
school. Agreeing with most participants, one participant
summarized views in this category:
Master’s Graduate: Not all weekends were fully occupied with
weekend school . . . usually for each semester it was only three
weekends that we dedicated to weekend school. So we felt we
weren’t being negligent by losing two church services . . . and
besides, even God Himself will understand that absence from
one of his followers. Some of us attended early morning church
service before our study meetings.
One doctoral graduate extended this theme:
You have to have a contract with yourself first, if you want to
succeed. I rewarded myself for achieving certain milestones
throughout the entire program. For example, I would go out to
mix with friends [as a reward] only when I was sure I had
covered or surpassed planned doctoral activities for the day.
Coffee with friends or even going out to church . . .
Persistence, from this context, was viewed as the partici-
pants’ abilities to substitute fear of the unknown . . . with
dedication for personal improvement. Such students reported
taking risks that include avoiding listening to the outside
world regarding their changes or emergence of new social
behaviors that would be regarded as negative due to partici-
pation in the ODL programs.
8 SAGE Open
Ability to Set Achievable Personal
Personal commitment to achievable goals. Participants com-
monly held the belief that to successfully complete their
studies, graduate students should demonstrate higher moti-
vation and commitment to manageable milestones in their
studies. Unlike master’s degree programs, ODL doctoral
degrees require extended student commitment to complete.
Lengthy studies require students to work both long- and
short-term hours. Therefore, the participants’ approaches
and perceptions toward coping to achieve an academic cre-
dential have a direct relationship with motivation levels and
commitment demonstrated. The following quote from the
one participant summarizes this finding:
Doctoral Graduate: One important thing I discovered is, if you
always visualize the graduation day right from the first day of
registering for each semester, you will see the task as
impracticable one . . . unworthy the sacrifice . . . know? It [time]
will look very-very long and undoable. Each time, I looked at
my graduation day as four years away, I thought of giving up.
Ask those who dropped out . . . you will discover they were
de-motivated by the time-distance and money issues. So I am
saying, it’s easier to break down the overall task of your master’s
or PhD program into smaller short-term goals—and then focus
on what needs to be done now . . . and to keep reminded of why
I am pursuing these academic goals. That kept me motivated and
focused . . . Paduku-paduku . . . [Small bites accomplish huge
When doctoral students work on their dissertations, some
set insurmountable goals by attempting to solve world prob-
lems with just that one research. According to findings from
this study, successful ODL doctoral candidates received
assistance from their research supervisors who helped them
quickly identify realistic research designs for their research
questions/problems. Assistance from supervisors helped can-
didates to stay focused and motivated, to “continuously chal-
lenge ourselves in order to successfully complete our studies”
(Participant). Some of the specific descriptors participants
used to name the tutor-initiated-persistent motivational fac-
tors include encouraged to use manageable goals, paying
attention to me, discouraged from wasting time, encouraged
to write down something about our dissertations daily,
encouraged to be realistic, avoid distracters, ask supervisors
persistent questions, and challenge myself with small but
achievable tasks.
Using Student Self-Control and
Effective Personal Organizational Skills
Self-deprivation and self-regulatory persistent factors. Our find-
ings revealed that ODL participants’ persistence levels related
to clear focus on specific goals that indicated steps toward
achieving graduation. Participants defined self-control as
their “ability to forgo pleasure and non-planned emergent
activities—except funerals in order to attend to master’s and
doctoral work demands” (female participant). Some partici-
pants reported that they experienced short-sleep hours due to
fear of failure. Culturally, in Zimbabwe, while people may
not find plausible excuses for not attending funerals of close
relatives, friends/neighbor, participants still ensured that they
carried something to read and write at such events.
Master’s Graduate. I think one feature that naturally
contributed to my persistence and finally—graduation was the
way I disciplined myself in various aspects of my life. Money-
wise . . . in this program, you won’t succeed unless you pay fees
. . . you’ve to register for each semester first before you can start
thinking about participation. That’s the first hurdle; and crossing
it tells you that you are making those baby steps toward
graduation . . . Even when my sister passed away in 2007, I
attended the funeral yes, but I deliberately left my ATM bank
card at home . . . I wasn’t going to do something extra from my
meager earnings and this is one example how I persevered—
Time management is important too if you don’t want assignment-
submission deadlines.
Additional information this reflection adds to the litera-
ture as it relates to student success is, to persist effectively;
candidates need to ensure buy-in support from spouses or
families. Second, one demonstration of persistence may be
viewed through behaviors that at times may be regarded as
morally and culturally wrong, especially at funerals and
weddings. We concluded that (a) success in ODL requires
candidates who take cultural risks, (b) students should avoid
unproductive but tempting pass-time activities, and (c) they
exhibit effective collaborative family financial management.
From the overall responses to interviews, Figure 1 uses the
descriptive vocabulary from participants’ responses to create
a model we refer to as Self-Regulatory Persistence Factors
for success. The figure may help during students’ orientation
days to prepare them for behavior self-monitoring for
Students’ Ability to Source, Utilize, and
Manage Resources
Results from one follow-up question indicated that partici-
pants grappled with resources management including time,
material, technology, and finance to ensure persistence and
success. For example, one participant whose reflection seam-
lessly agreed with and summarized most participants’ persis-
tent principles and personal organizational skills suggested
that one factor that ensured persistence and success was that
doctoral and master’s students clearly have to work with a plan
that summarizes all events for each particular day to always
keep track of those doctoral tasks that have been accomplished
and those that need accomplishment to be able to say yes,
zvirikuita . . . [this is it . . . ] I am progressing with the doctoral
Madhlangobe et al. 9
Figure 1. Decision factors related to student-self regulatory behaviors.
The process Task strategies Specic student persistence behaviors Expected outcomes
Regular personal
goal setting
  Creating time-sensitive
schedules of small but
achievable tasks for
reading and writing
assignments and
dissertations or thesis
  Working on and completing specic
subsections of the assignment or dissertations
graduation with a
masters or doctoral
  Keeping and constantly reviewing records of
writing production—for assignments, thesis
and dissertation
  Ensuring study topics, thesis and dissertation
writing stages are met by set due dates
  Ensuring that work submitted as assignments,
masters or dissertation is edited or quality
assured for grammar and any other errors
Scoring points towards
building a desired
degree class
  Reading for each tasked activity or section
of the assignment, thesis or dissertation at
a selected place that affords privacy and
  Keeping evidence of success records and
constant consultation of tutors to ensure quality
of graduate work product output.
Persistent self-
monitoring of
  Keeping records of
progress made for
each chapter of the
  Consulting research supervisor to keep writing
tasks on target
graduation with a
masters or doctoral
  Reading in the library or at some preferred
place that ensures academic productivity
  Attending dissertation workshop presentations
including nal defense sessions for other
  Meeting assignments
deadlines and any other
due dates listed on the
university calendar—
registration dates,
dissertation submission
dates, presentation of
proposal defense dates
  Attending graduation ceremonies for friends
including graduation celebration events—to
create self-motivation (So I can do this!)
Scoring points towards
building a desired
degree class
  Imagining own graduation day. Keeping and
constantly reviewing evidence of completed
and submitted assignments—and grades
achieved for each assignments. Grades are a
testimony of a step towards graduation
  Putting off pleasure activities and replacing
them with academic activities until writing tasks
for assignments, thesis and dissertations have
been accomplished
  Rehearsing presentations for proposal or nal
defense of dissertation with study partners or
groups and strictly evaluating self during each
presentation—assignment writing.
Persistent request
for help
  Asking for advice from
the supervisor, fellow
students, library staff
and other lecturers
  Setting-up regular consultations with
collaborative groups and research supervisor—
if one is turned down suggest alternatives until
one is secured
graduation with a
masters or doctoral
  Going to the tutors and or research supervisor
when student feels confused about something
  Avoiding postponing need for help—prepare
notes for asking questions and starting
  Creating collaborative study groups with other
students or even with one study partner
Scoring points towards
building a desired
degree class
  Not giving up until academic work product is
perfect or satises self-set-standards—quality
assuring own academic products
  Being the rst to initiate group meetings
whenever there is a gap in your progress
10 SAGE Open
work. For example, when I get to the end of each day, I ask
myself, what have I done today to add something to my
dissertation? If I find nothing specific to point at, I knew for
sure that I was not persisting . . . I would tell myself my studies
are in danger of folding up . . . Hatifaniri kutamba nenguva
yatisina—nguva inokosha! [We don’t have to waste any little
time available to us—time is a valuable resource!].
One common theme that we consistently heard through-
out the interviews and observed from review of artifacts was
that sometimes, data analysis overwhelmed candidates
because they did not take pre-data analysis courses to pre-
pare them. This involves reading, identifying themes and cat-
egories, and including writing the actual thesis. According to
the participants, students who succeed persistently consulted
tutors and project supervisors for help to overcome chal-
lenges. For example, graduates who intended to use SPSS
abandoned the design because the university itself did not
have the software. Although some students sourced the soft-
ware, tutors did not know how to use it. One doctoral candi-
date said, “I wanted to use a quantitative research design for
my dissertation, but my supervisor could not help me use
SPSS although I had sourced it from my sister who is in
Timely Payment of Tuition
Students’ persistence was also linked to participants’ ability
to fund their studies. Costs associated with studying for a
master’s or doctorate degrees especially through ODL are
significant, primarily because ODL higher degrees require
the students to invest financial resources that ensure comple-
tion of the courses, including huge investment of required
time and travel during data collection. According to findings
of this study, for master’s and doctoral candidates, only those
employed by ZOU had access to fellowships. External candi-
dates had to pay tuition through applying for bank-loans and
sometimes borrowing from local loan-sharks. In addition to
bringing life threats to family, interests from loan-sharks are
considerably high once loan-sharks perceive students’ inabil-
ity to repay loans. This reflection from one doctoral partici-
pant summarizes this theme:
It’s not one of those experiences I would like to go through
again—but I did, and neither would I wish another person to
experience it. In my case I had to endure that humiliation outside
my two children’s view, but the good news is . . . Yes, I managed
to payback but most important I was able to graduate . . . there is
my graduation photo, my gown and all that goes with it . . .
This reflection reveals that participants were motivated to
persist for self-actualization reasons and when they look at
their graduation regalia and certificates they find satisfac-
tion. Participants viewed money as a secondary goal for their
Attending tutorials grounded on personal-timetable. Another
critical persistence-related factor that was viewed by partici-
pants as an indicator of success in post-grad related to atten-
dance of (a) weekend and face-to-face tutorials with research
supervisors and (b) completing coursework assignments and
dissertations. Participants were adult students who had chil-
dren and some were married. The only female doctoral par-
ticipant a widowed and single parent agreed with other
participants that regularly they found themselves having to
prefer to arrive late for weekend school to help their children
with planned weekend school activities. Similar to our find-
ings, volumes of research spanning decades also reveal that
there is a positive correlation between attendance and stu-
dent achievement (Bodrova & Leong, 2004; V. Richardson,
2003). We concluded that students who have experienced
success previously are inclined to work hard to maintain that
record especially when studying at higher levels. Partici-
pants’ reflections revealed that in addition to their children’s
needs, they had to find time at night to catch up.
Doctoral Graduate: First, those orientation meetings are very
important, because they set the ground for each student to hit the
ground at full speed. Thereafter, no one comes to remind you
how important it is to lose sleep and catch-up. You have to find
where to steal time from and do what needs to be done—and in
most cases sleep is always the first victim when all cards lay
face-up on my desk. You know we have our Shona saying, that
has since been turned into a song by this musician—Mtukudzi,
that Hope hadzina ndima [excessive sleep has no gains].
While sleep is considered important, participants con-
firmed that they sacrificed and worked deep into the nights to
catch up. This appears to reject findings from literature that
says there is always a need for students to maintain a strict
8-hr sleep regime before the next learning activity. This
study reveals that certain cultural beliefs act as motivators
including local music that acts as scholastic-anthems remind-
ing candidates to recoup lost time and persist.
Student’s Ability to Ensure Focus/
In full-time institutional programs, it may take average stu-
dents 5 years to complete their degrees, while ODL doctoral
candidates will take several more years if they do not use
effective persistence strategies. In some cases, students may
drop out and never return because the road to get to their goal
may appear endless and bumpy. Certain student characteris-
tics may contribute to success or failure; hence, it requires a
certain type of student to personality enroll in, persist and
complete ODL higher degrees. The persistent question that
arose from the gaps that we discovered during literature
review is what persistence strategies do successful master’s
and doctoral graduates use to complete their degrees?
Madhlangobe et al. 11
Students face numerous distracters such as attending par-
ties, watching television especially with the proliferation of
satellite TV stations, sleep and drinking. Excessive participa-
tion in such activities may reduce positive gains toward goals
of completing respective study programs. Participants
reported that their ability to postpone joy and to resist temp-
tations of investing time in non-productive activities helped
them succeed. The following quote from one participant
reveals persistence practices leading to attainment of a higher
degree credential:
Master’s Graduate: I always set specific study goals that
allowed me to advance my objectives—for example, writing
assignments. After each achievement, yes I allowed people to
visit, chat and relax . . . These cell phones are like zvikwambo
[devils], oh yes you must be very careful which phone-call you
pick up or you will only know it when you’ve lose time on
useless agendas. Some will call, hey lets go drinking and others
. . . will phone only to load your mind with family problems and
by the time you put the phone down your mind is destabilized. So
for me, I turned it off and it’s—the number you dialed is not
available . . . meanwhile I’m achieving my objectives for the day.
ZOU Institutional Factors
Results reveal that there are some institutional factors that
help participants to succeed including (a) supervisor–doc-
toral candidate relationships, (b) availability of qualified lec-
turers who foster and model persistent attitudes, (c) receiving
expert assistance from library staff, (d) interlibrary relation-
ships with the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), and (e) advice
on how to use electronic sources for research.
Research Supervisor–Doctoral
Candidate Relationships
Relationships between graduate candidates and their research
supervisors played crucial roles in building persistence ener-
gies among graduates. According to the data gathered from the
interviews, student’s who succeeded to graduate with their
respective credentials valued their relationships with the tutors.
Master’s Graduate: For me, to be able to study for the master’s
degree, first that persistence to make the decision was connected
to my personal motive for wanting to participate . . . That
motivation became a critical factor for my success. Without that
initial motivation, I believe nothing could’ve been achieved.
One thing I’m discovering from this conversation is that I was
motivated right from the first day of registering. The desire to
have this degree was like a pre-cursor that pushed me to go all
the way to Masvingo to register, study, and finish—nothing
more. The university itself created the institutional climate that
said, welcome to ZOU we are here to help you . . .
According to this reflection, intrinsic motivation is viewed
as a pre-condition for starting, persisting, and succeeding; and
it is fostered by the general university academic atmosphere
that ignites the students’ will to go all the way. For this
research, we concluded that while students may be fully moti-
vated to engage in a degree, if the university climate is not
deliberately structured to match that inbuilt level of academic
enthusiasm in the student, the student may not register but
drop out at the earliest plausible opportunity. When students’
motivation is directly connected to a positive university envi-
ronment, it helps to ensure persistence related to all aspects of
the university. These include the culture of success, culture of
supportive relationships in the faculty, and the intrinsic sense
for belonging. Congruent to the literature, Siebert (2005) find-
ings that “successful people work to achieve personal goals;
[and] . . . are not motivated to achieve social indicators of suc-
cess. Success, for them, is a feeling they enjoy when they
reach their self-chosen goals . . . ” (p. 120), our findings reveal
that from previous experiences with focused persistence, par-
ticipants were able to avoid focusing on social indicators that
may not help them arrive at self-selected academic goals.
Throughout all the interviews, one theme emerged related
to how participants valued the institutional climate and rela-
tionships that they commonly qualified as very important,
valuable, priceless, helpful, and motivating. The cordial rela-
tionships that exist in ZOU, participants found positive
energy to continuously create opportunities to work with
tutors on assignments and research projects. This was par-
ticularly important for ZOU as an institution that offers doc-
toral degrees through research.
ZOU Tutors Who Go an Extra Mile for Students
One factor that encouraged participants’ persistence was that
research supervisors “take time to assist students in the
development of manageable course of study; and were
always accessible to provide ongoing feedback throughout
the research” (Participant). In the case of master’s students,
it covers the entire program. In the process, students who
experienced ZOU student–tutor relationships valued the
relationships as comfortable relationships that went an extra
step providing consistent encouragement. Participants
described advisor–student relationship as “beneficial to both
the student and the supervisor,” meaning that both the super-
visor and student get satisfaction when students make prog-
ress. However, according to the participants, such
relationships should be structured to provide sources of
encouragement, direction, and ensuring that students obtain
advantages and opportunities to learn from supervisor exper-
tise in their field of study. The following response to inter-
view questions under this theme reveals how
expert–apprentice factor ensured students persisted till grad-
uation with chosen credentials:
Doctoral Graduate: I am indebted to Dr. B who was my
supervisor for the DPhil. He took time to guide me to understand
12 SAGE Open
and what I had to do. That was priceless . . . You can’t let such
person down after taking his time to phone you just to check on
how you are feeling after the last conversation . . . you find
yourself trapped in that relationship. Sometimes you may feel
bad after a discussion with your tutor. Sometimes when I went to
his office . . . out of the blue he tells me, “I have this journal with
this article for you. You may want to read it . . . ” Straight you
know that is an opportunity for you to make it [success] work.
Tutors who foster and model persistent attitudes. When adult
students enroll in fields of study of their choice, one reason is
because they identified potential gains related to completion
of that course, in addition to quality of lecturers to provide
support and guidance for success. Participants reported being
able to persist because their tutors exhibited valuable experi-
ence and research interests that helped students to meet study
targets. One student who experienced the ability to publish
under the mentorship from his faculty reflected:
Doctoral Graduate: Dr. Y really managed to engage me for
success. He persistently drilled the importance of publishing
articles in journals and one day I decided to give it a try, and it
worked. This made me realize that I can do it. So from then on, I
worked hard toward everything I was doing. Now I am aware that
I must join other groups in order to collaborate doing research.
Next month, I am attending a conference to present my paper.
Expert assistance from library staff. According to participants
in this study, successful students who graduate from a uni-
versity receive effective supports from the library staff. They
described that library staff helped them to persist through the
following sub-themes: (a) helping to locate relevant books
and explaining how to use the library—In general, graduates
were encouraged when they experienced elements of success
in locating information that supported their responses to
assignment and related research; (b) permission to use UZ
library—ZOU brings university education to the door step of
aspiring students. Once students register, participation is
assured through availability of ZOU libraries throughout the
country and at their regional centers. During the interviews,
participants confirmed experiencing a feeling of belonging to
a wider academic community when they allowed to use the
UZ library—a conventional institution. As a motivational
factor, they were able to continue to study regardless of
which province they were visiting; (c) advice on electronic
sources usage for research—Most participants described
their experience with computers as, brand-new and distress-
ing, but for most, ZOU and UZ library staff helped them to
develop skills for accessing online journal articles. As one
participant puts it, her ability to access electronic files proved
“that the research project could be done even from the click
of a computer keyboard. Long back we thought computers
were only for use by our secretaries, but things have
changed.” However, participants also suggested that ZOU
needed to subscribe to diverse international journals to ben-
efit future students in all university faculties.
Other Factors that Promoted
Data from the interviews and follow-up questions revealed
that there were other factors that motivated participants to per-
sist and to graduate with their selected academic credentials.
These include (a) employment conditions and responsibilities,
(b) social supports, and (c) ability to override stressors
Employment conditions and responsibilities. One consistent fac-
tor that emerged from our interviews and e-mail exchanges
with some participants was that there were demands for new
skills at the workplaces. Therefore, some participants made
crucial decisions to go back to university in the face of clear
possibilities of losing out on their employment delayed pro-
motions. In certain contexts, the participants were offered paid
study leave that had conditions attached including that they
had to show timely progress toward the credential they were
studying for. This factor by itself ensured that participants who
were on conditional study leave scored higher than other aver-
age students. The sample of participants in our study revealed
that they obtained supports from the university, including one-
on-one tutorship from lecturers, modules that were written by
ODL lectures who understood their contexts. Such forms of
support helped the students to perfect superior study strategies
that fitted their way of understanding.
Social supports. Studies reveal that levels of social support
from university and outside contributors such as family,
friends, and mentors are central to the levels of persistence
and perseverance that students demonstrate (Dlugosh &
Madhlangobe, 2012; Trockel et al., 2000). For example, Dlu-
gosh and Madhlangobe (2012) concluded that students who
succeed include those who have powerful social supports
such as family, community, and other institutional supports.
Findings from this study add new knowledge to the current
body of research by further involving participants specifi-
cally from ODL contexts. In Zimbabwe, where student loans
and direct government supports are no longer available, the
time that students spend studying for a university credential
may be a stressful and life-changing experience; some of
which may cause students to drop out.
Doctoral Graduate: There is a difference studying while in
your 20s and what I had to do myself in my late 50s. I was
already employed by ZOU and I had young mature adult
children who were also studying. Somehow, I had to spend time
reading and writing, while at the same time holding on to this
only job in order to feed, clothe and pay school fees for my
children. So it was not so obvious that because ZOU was
offering fellowship, I was not going through economic hardships.
I had other bills to pay; and I had to perform well at work to hold
on to a job that allows you free education.
For example, one big finding this study made is that doc-
toral candidates who work are motivated by comments from
Madhlangobe et al. 13
co-workers and such comments were likely to ensure that
they worked hard at their studies more than those who did
not receive similar comments. One participant said,
Female Doctoral Graduate: Every morning whenever I arrived
at my office co-workers asked similar questions that motivated
me to continuously engage myself in my studies—How is the
dissertation project going on? How far are you from graduation?
Are you enjoying your degree studies, research or assignments
. . . and so on . . . you know, to me this was really powerful and
it clearly caused me to keep focused, and also to give responses
that are likely to motivate me to pay attention to my studies
through behaviors like attending classes and taking my studies
education more seriously. After such positive responses, you
won’t have any other excuses because you have already
committed yourself to success because someone out there is
paying attention to you.
The social context plays a positive role in how master’s
and doctoral students value their university careers espe-
cially when some individuals in senior positions at work
demonstrate interest in what they are studying and how they
are succeeding. According to the participants, similar atten-
tion from the community causes doctoral and master’s candi-
dates to fulfill certain comments they make in response to
some of the casual morning talks that emerge when people
meet. For example, one PhD student experienced ridicule
from one fellow social commentator who addressed him
about his studies at a funeral:
Doctoral Graduate: You know some time back, I went to this
funeral and this clown comes to me and says we just heard from
rumors . . . they say you will be a doctor . . . is that true? Another
one said, “so why do you need education when you are almost
sixty? Isn’t that a joke to get a degree when you are retiring,
where were you all along?” These comments were negative but,
I took the positive side of each and told myself that what I was
doing was drawing attention even from the least fortunate. I
ensured that I made it to the finishing line . . . if I failed they
would still say yes we knew you were not going far with it.
Whichever way I looked at it, I had to go on . . .
We asked our standard follow-up question: How did these
comments help them to persist and succeed? According to
participants, comments like these caused them stress although
they had positive influences on them. The comments pro-
vided fortitude to ensure persistence so the benefits would be
evident through tangible results or promotion at work. One
participant added, “You have no business vocalizing how you
will benefit, what if it does not go that way, and how will you
speak next?” (Doctoral graduate). Success strategies may also
be found in how tutors influence their graduate students to
form coalitions, which are commonly known as weekend
study groups in ZOU. Responses from participants revealed
that ZOU tutors foster the following behaviors that we used to
create a model that may be used to promote perseverance,
persistence, and success at ZOU (Figure 2).
One student summarized the importance of coalitions this
Doctoral Graduate: My experience with weekend school . . .
and presentations helped me to overcome the difficulties
associated with distance learning. Yes, I can tell you for sure
such gatherings provided important guidelines for knowing the
how-tos and when, why I must do what, where and with what,
about writing my dissertation. Strategies for success at university
are so many out there, so, as students we had to come together to
learn how others’ success strategies worked for them. From
there I would create strategies that work for my context. So for
me, coming together every weekend as ODLs provided me
realistic and practical opportunities for gathering ideas to
vigorously soldier on to get my degree . . . that’s the language
and attitude I think.
With too many stress factors present and limited resources
of time and energy, a student could easily become over-
whelmed. When tutors help to create coalitions, such contexts
help students understand how they learn—metacognition, pro-
viding useful resources and creating group conversations on
important topics. There is power in collaborative teamwork.
Outstanding Issues Needing to be
Some of the problems that participants feel were not fully
addressed by ZOU during their studies include outdated text-
books considered too old when cited in literature review sec-
tions of the research projects; lack of a common language
and uniform understanding of how to create references in
American Psychological Association (APA) format; in-text
citation using the APA style; ideas on how to cite literature
from journals when compared with books; and following a
standard agreed format for presentation of final research
projects. Each semester, there is a need for a clear calendar of
due dates and important dates including dissertation defense
dates. Finally, graduates feel that the university website
should create a database for current research and proposals
registered by students and professors. This will help moti-
vate current candidates to persist.
Master’s Graduate: I feel there are a number of issues that
ZOU needs to pay attention to. I struggled a lot whenever I met
with tutors especially when I realized that they contradicted
each other on how to use APA. Even right now I do not
understand what that is . . . Also, when I started I wanted to do
my research using a quantitative research design, but none of my
lecturers knew how to use SPSS. They can talk about SPSS in
lectures but most do not demonstrate of how to use it.
Findings from this study allowed us to make the following
broad conclusions related to the factors that helped
14 SAGE Open
participants to register, persist, and graduate with master’s
and doctoral credentials:
Graduates from Zimbabwean ODL institutions take
cultural, financial, and social risks that lead to being
labeled erroneously. Some of the risks that students
take include self-initiated exile from friends, depriv-
ing themselves of sleep and putting theirs and family
lives in danger through unconventional borrowings of
money from loan-sharks.
Fear of the failure label causes adult students to ensure
that the label itself does not attach itself to how their
children are viewed in the society—“children of par-
ents who fail to complete what they started.Fear of
failure is related more to the cultural backgrounds of
the Zimbabwean graduates that we studied. Culturally,
in Zimbabwe, adults who participate in adult educa-
tional programs and demonstrate failure are viewed as
bad examples for the community and such labels may
affect them and their children for life.
Team power is an important variable that ensures reg-
istered students keep their efforts fully focused on
their graduation goals. The concept of collaborations
includes the degree to which graduate students involve
family and friends in their plans
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.
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Constructivist Practitioner
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Creating Coalitions
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Note. PSM = persistence and success model; ODL = open distance learning.
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Author Biographies
Lewis Madhlangobe, PhD., is a senior lecturer at Zimbabwe Open
University (ZOU). His research interests include teaching and
learning methods involving culturally responsiveness and how the
students’ brains process information.
Jennifer Chikasha, Med., is a lecturer at ZOU, and she is currently
working on her PhD by research. She enjoys research on school
leadership and understanding how children learn.
Onias Mafa, PhD., is a senior lecturer at ZOU. He has published
widely on topics related to land reforms and their benefits, and the
implications of HIV and AIDS to education of adult students. He is
a co-author of two books.
Prof. Primrose Kurasha is the Vice Chancellor of the ZOU. She
does a lot of research on open distance learning and how it may be
used to support human resources development for economic
growth. She is the first female Vice Chancellor ever in Zimbabwe.
... Although researchers identified several factors that contribute to students' overall success in graduate school (Duranczyk et al., 2015;Gilmore et al., 2016;Madhlangobe et al., 2014), the existing literature does not differentiate graduate students by GRE performance. Understanding the success of graduate students with low GRE scores can inform universities on how to support these students' needs. ...
Full-text available
Most U.S. graduate schools rely on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) to predict readiness for graduate degree programs and differentiate between applicants in verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. Many times, low GRE scores create a barrier to entry into U.S. graduate programs despite research showing that selecting graduate applicants based solely on academic metric thresholds does not guarantee graduate student performance and many low scorers still attain a graduate degree on time (Miller et al., 2019b; Pacheco et al., 2017; Petersen et al., 2018; Wang et al, 2013). In this study, we used a constructivist grounded theory approach to develop a theory on how low GRE-scoring students managed to succeed in their graduate programs. Participants included 17 low-scoring yet successful doctoral students from seven universities across the U.S. The results show students’ self-determination and emotional and financial support and the university’s climate contribute to the success of doctoral students with low GRE scores. This study builds a theory that admission review boards and faculty members can use when weighing standardized testing admission requirements.
... Based on the results of this article, other possible areas of research include: i) validating the proposed model in other specific student populations (such as with students in online programs) whose motivations and expectations differ from the kind of education they had as undergraduate students, and ii) comparing the motivational factors behind studying an undergraduate degree with those of studying a graduate degree (Madhlangobe et al. 2014). ...
... Identifying predictors of student success in achieving productive global fieldwork is thereby essential for maintaining successful partnerships and providing reciprocal benefits for both domestic and international institutions. Grit, or aspects of grit, is one such character trait that has been explored in the literature as a predictor of student success in domestic situations [5,6]. ...
Full-text available
Global fieldwork is an invaluable educational experience for students who aspire to pursue careers as global public health professionals and cancer experts. Student-led research projects can be mutually beneficial for students and host institutions by providing opportunities for bilateral learning, sharing resources, building databases, and ultimately creating uniquely informed multi-cultural health research relevant to global communities. The USA-host country partnerships can be delicate, requiring tactful approaches to the investment in the careers of students and the field projects. The US and host institutions must therefore be selective in determining which students have the privilege of participating in global field work. This paper examines the importance of grit as a character trait contributing to the success of student-led global health research projects. Grit has been explored at length as a predictor of student success in domestic educational experiences, yet is underrepresented in the context of global education, field training, and evaluation of research and learning outcomes. This manuscript utilizes testimonials of three public health graduate students recently returned from summer cancer epidemiology education training fellowships to explore the role that grit played in completion of their independent research projects. Ultimately, this paper discusses ways to identify grit in student applicants and to foster an improved capacity for grit before, during, and after their field experiences. We share the experiences with an aim of providing participant perspectives that may be used by educators, students, and administrators at US and international partner institutions to inform global research, experiential learning, and educational and training programs.
... Their collective story deals with the steadfastness in doing something despite difficulties and delays in achieving success. In the study by Madhlangobe et al. (36) perseverance, persistence, among others despite adversities in life can lead one to success. Likewise, having a firm or fixed intentions will help in attaining success. ...
... However, it should also be taken into consideration that the subscale of "current purposes pursuing" is significantly higher. Madhlangobe, Chikasha, Mafa, and Kurasha (2014) in their study, found a positive relationship between student achievement and motivational persistence. Further, there are studies in the literature that motivational persistence is associated with academic success and school life (Aypay & Eryılmaz, 2011;Demir & Peker, 2017;Lavigne, Vallerand, & Miquelon, 2007;Saricam, 2015). ...
Full-text available
This study was carried out to investigate the motivational persistence levels of students who received sports education and examine in terms of some demographic variables. In the study, the "Motivational Persistence Scale" consisting of long-term purposes pursuing, current purposes pursuing, recurrence of unattained purposes sub-dimensions was used to measure motivational permanence of the students. The research group consisted of 347 students who voluntarily participated from Faculty of Sport Sciences of Mugla Sitki Kocman University. The data were analyzed through the statistical package program SPSS 22.0. The demographic information of the students was determined with descriptive statistics. Independent T-test was used to compare the subscale scores by gender, and One Way ANOVA analysis was used to compare the age groups and overall academic grade averages. The results of the analyzes showed that the motivational persistence levels of the students of the faculty of sport sciences are medium and close to high. In addition, there was no significant difference in terms of the age variable, but it was found that students aged 25 and over were more motivated. Further, it has been observed that the students whose academic grade average was 1.00 to 1.99 were higher than the students whose grade average was between 3.00-4.00.
... The basis of persistence is the power of will. Some research results reinforce the theory, namely factors that influence student persistence including social support (parents, peers), stress, socio-cultural integration, no time management, and no clear goals (Guan, et al, 2006;Lavigne, Vallerand, & Miquelon, 2007;Madhlangobe, et al, 2014, Salas, et al, 2014. In addition, the factors that influence students' persistence are the existence of economic factors, where male-type students withdraw or non-persist from women for fear of worrying about accumulating debt, so they choose to work and focus on his family (Cofer & Somers;Markle, 2015). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Abstract The research was motivated by the phenomenon of first-year college students who experience persistence problems in overcoming difficult tasks during college. Persistence consists of intentional and directed, continuation or reapplication of effort, and temptation to stop. This study aims to express the persistence of first-year college students in the Educational and Guidance Psychology Undergraduate Study Program, Faculty of Education, Universitas Pendidikan Indonesias by involving 85 students by convenience sampling. The instrument used was the persistence questionnaire with the Guttman scale. Data were analyzed by descriptive statistical techniques with the help of SPSS Version.20. The research findings reveal that students' persistence in general is in a moderate condition. The study imply the need of a technique or strategy in improving the persistence of first-year college students and the role of the supervisor in increasing the intelligence of first-year college students. Keywords: Persistence, intentional and goal-directed, continuation or reapplication of effort, temptation to quit
Full-text available
The online doctoral population is growing steadily worldwide, yet its narratives have not been thoroughly reviewed so far. We conducted a systematic review summarizing online PhD students' experiences. ERIC, WoS, Scopus, and PsycInfo databases were searched following PRISMA 2020 guidelines and limiting the results to peer-reviewed articles of the last 20 years, yielding 16 studies eligible. A thematic synthesis of the studies showed that online PhD students are generally satisfied with their programs, but isolation, juggling work and family roles, and financial pressures are the main obstacles. The supervisory relationship determines the quality of the experience, whereas a strong sense of community helps students get ahead. Personal factors such as motivation, personality, and skills modulate fit with the PhD. We conclude that pursuing a doctorate online is more isolating than face to face, and students might encounter additional challenges regarding the supervision process and study/life balance. Accordingly, this review might help faculty, program managers, and prospective students better understand online doctorates' pressing concerns such as poor well-being and high dropout rates.
Blended learning is increasingly favoured by universities with different effects. The research on the impact of learning performance has become one of the important topics. In this paper, three kinds of presences of community of inquiry and self-efficacy are used to explore the influence mechanism of blended learning performance. Structural modelling analysis of an online survey data completed with 216 students who had participated in blended learning. The results indicate that teaching presence has a great influence on the prediction of learning performance. In addition, there is a positive correlation between teaching presence and cognitive presence and social presence. Furthermore, cognitive presence and social presence are both positively correlated with learning performance. In particular, self-efficacy plays a moderating role in the relationship between teaching presence and cognitive presence and social presence, respectively. General principles are derived from these findings and their application to blended learning is discussed.
Full-text available
In this final section, we summarize the different manuscripts included in his Supplement and outline the lessons learned. We also elaborate on the common educational challenges reported in the included articles and the possible recommendations for future global cancer education.
Full-text available
Sabır eğilimi; kaygı, stres ve hoş olmayan durumlar karşısında sakince pes etmeden bekleme durumudur. Sabır, insanın hedeflerine ulaşmasında önemli rol oynamaktadır. Kararlılık, başarı ve istikrar sağlamaktadır. Bu nedenle sabır ve kararlılık değişkenlerinin; meslek seçimi ve ailenin etkisinden kaynaklanan kaygının düşmesinde önemli etkileri olduğu düşünülmektedir. Buradan hareketle bu araştırmada sabır eğilimi ve kariyer kaygısı ilişkisinde kararlılığın aracılık etkisi araştırılmaktadır. Bu amaçla Burdur Mehmet Akif Ersoy üniversitesinde öğrenim gören 388 lisans öğrencisinden anket tekniğiyle veri toplanmıştır. Veriler, AMOS 23 ve SPSS 22 paket programları kullanılarak analiz edilmiştir. Elde edilen bulgulara göre değişkenler arasında ilişkiler ve etkiler tespit edilmiştir. Sabır eğilimi kararlılığı olumlu etkilemesine rağmen kariyer kaygısını anlamlı şekilde etkilemediği tespit edilmiştir. Kararlılığın da kariyer kaygısını anlamlı şekilde etkilemediği saptanmıştır. Bunun yanında sabır eğiliminin kariyer kaygısı üzerindeki etkisinde kararlılığın aracılık etkisinin anlamlı olmadığı bulgusuna ulaşılmıştır. Diğer bir ifadeyle sabır eğilimi kararlılığın arttırılmasında ve sürdürülmesinde etkilidir. Ancak sabır eğilimi ve kararlılığın kariyer kaygısındaki değişimlerde etkili rol oynamadığı görülmektedir.
In challenging orthodoxy, questioning the premises of liberalism, and debating sacred wisdoms, Critical Race Theory scholars writing over the past few years have indelibly changed the way America looks at race. This book contains treatment of all the topics covered in the first edition, along with provocative and probing questions for discussion and detailed suggestions for additional reading. In addition, this anthology collects writings about various aspect of social theory -- crime, critical race practice, intergroup tensions and alliances, gay/lesbian issues, and transcending the black-white binary paradigm of race. In each of these areas, groundbreaking scholarship by the movement's founding figures as well as the brightest new stars provides immediate entre to current trends and developments in critical civil rights thought.
The field of adult literacy in the United States has no commonly recognized credential or way to ensure quality of practice. Most instruction is by low-paid, part-time tutors or volunteers with minimal training. Findings of a recent survey indicate practitioners think that a credential would befit the field.
This study describes how a culturally responsive school leader promoted equity in a racially and linguistically diverse school. The authors shadowed Faith, an assistant principal, and did follow-up interviews with her after each day of shadowing. They observed teachers in their classrooms, conducted multiple interviews with teachers and parents, and gathered artifacts from administrative offices, classrooms, and common areas. The authors found that Faith practiced culturally responsive leadership on three levels: personal, environmental, and curricular. Faith's culturally responsive leadership included six themes: caring, building relationships, being persistent and persuasive, being present and communicating, modeling cultural responsiveness, and fostering cultural responsiveness among others.