Student Engagement in Distance-based Vocational Education


  • Anne Yates Victoria University of Wellington
  • Wendy Brindley-Richards Victoria University of Wellington
  • Tony Thistoll The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand



distance education, student engagement, student retention, polytechnic student retention, barriers and enablers in distance education, vocational education


Students enrolled in distance education courses tend to have lower course completion rates than those who attend face-to-face classes (Simpson, 2013). This article reports on a collective case study undertaken at a vocational, distance education provider in New Zealand, whose course completion rates have risen over recent years to match those of similar face-to-face institutions. This research investigated institutional factors that have contributed towards this improvement, from the perspectives of the staff involved. Results show staff believe there are key enablers and barriers to student engagement and course completion, but the barriers are not insurmountable. The implication is that distance education providers can improve student engagement and completion rates through effective interventions.

Author Biographies

Anne Yates, Victoria University of Wellington

Anne Yates is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she teaches in the Graduate Diploma in Teaching and BA programmes. Anne has a background in distance education as the former Programme Director for the Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Secondary Online) at Victoria University and previously taught at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu—The Correspondence School. Her research interests include distance learning (including e-learning) as an approach to learning, initial teacher education, and school-based assessment for national qualifications. 

Wendy Brindley-Richards, Victoria University of Wellington

Wendy Brindley-Richards is a former teacher who is now studying for a Masters of Educational Psychology with Victoria University of Wellington. She was appointed from November 2013 until March 2014 as a Faculty of Education, Victoria University Summer Scholar—a programme that aims to develop the research skills of postgraduate students. During this period she contributed extensively to the research project.

Tony Thistoll, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand

Dr Tony Thistoll is Strategic Insight Manager at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. He currently leads a team of analysts to inform and execute the organisational strategy for open and flexible vocational education. His background is in product management and business development in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) industry. In recent years Tony has combined postgraduate study with contract lecturing and has completed a PhD in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation in the context of the ICT industry.