Conceptualising and Measuring Student Disengagement in Higher Education: A Synthesis of the Literature

Lucy Chipchase, Megan Davidson, Felicity Blackstock, Ros Bye, Peter Colthier, Nerida Krupp, Wendy Dickson, Deborah Turner, Mark Williams


Much has been written about why students engage in academic studies at university, with less attention given to the concept of disengagement. Understanding the risks and factors associated with student disengagement from learning provides opportunities for targeted remediation. The aims of this review were to 1) explore how student disengagement has been conceptualised, 2) identify factors associated with disengagement and 3) identify measureable indicators of disengagement in previous literature. A systematic search was conducted across relevant databases and key websites. Reference lists of included papers were screened for additional publications. Studies and national published survey data were included if they addressed issues pertaining to student disengagement with learning or the academic environment, were in full text and in English. In the 32 papers that met the inclusion criteria, student disengagement was conceptualised as a multi-faceted, complex yet fluid state that has a combination of behavioural, emotional and cognitive domains influenced by intrinsic (psychological factors, low motivation, inadequate preparation for higher education and unmet or unrealistic expectations) or extrinsic (competing demands, institutional structure and processes, teaching quality and online teaching and learning). A number of measurable indicators of disengagement were synthesised from the literature including those that were self-reported by students and those collected by an institution. An examination of the conceptualisation, influences and indicators of disengagement could inform intervention programs to ameliorate the consequences of disengagement for students and academic institutions.

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International Journal of Higher Education
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