Perspectives on Persistence: A Review of the Research
Posted by Jessica Gilmour on November 19, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryMember Tips

ProLiteracy has created a series of research briefs on adult literacy and education. Written by scholars who have demonstrated expertise on specific topics, ProLiteracy Research Briefs were developed to help adult literacy practitioners understand ideas that have emerged from research. 

“Perspectives on Persistence: A Review of the Research” was authored by Amy Pickard, Assistant Professor, Indiana University School of Education, Adult Education 

Program. All briefs are edited by Alisa Belzer of Rutgers University. An excerpt of the research brief is highlighted below. 

Learner persistence is a well-known concern for the adult basic education (ABE) field, and understandably so. Students may need many hours of instruction to meet educational goals or accountability benchmarks, yet programs consistently report that many students leave without achieving either (Kefallinou, 2009; Mellard et al., 2013; Porter et al., 2005). The research reviewed for this Brief suggests that there are two ways, broadly, that the field has viewed student persistence: a control/prevent perspective and an acknowledge/accommodate perspective. A control/prevent perspective sees low learner persistence as a problem that can be prevented by changing programs or learners. In contrast, an acknowledge/accommodate perspective suggests that low learner persistence will likely always be an issue, but may or may not need fixing, depending on the goals and circumstances of the individual learner. It also acknowledges that forces outside the control of either learners or programs often determine whether learners persist.  

How practitioners define persistence informs the actions they take. Below I will briefly explain how persistence has been defined in the research, describe the two perspectives on persistence I found in the research, and suggest implications for practice.  

Persistence Defined  

Much of the research I reviewed defined persistence as continuous participation in a program until a goal is reached (e.g., Chande et al., 2015, 2017; Greenberg et al., 2013; Mellard et al., 2013; Sabatini et al., 2011; Ziegler et al., 2006). Other researchers have resisted defining persistence as requiring continuous participation and have suggested that many adult learners “stop out” of programs, only to re-enroll later (Belzer, 1998; Comings et al., 1999; Comings, 2007; Nash & Kallenbach, 2009; Schafft& Prins, 2009). Neither of these can be claimed as the “true” definition of persistence. However, each definition suggests different solutions to the issue of low persistence: The former calls for a control/prevent approach, while the latter suggests an acknowledge/accommodate approach. Both approaches may offer promising interventions. 


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