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How Do Students Adapt in Response to Academic Failure?


Ensuring student success has long been on the research agenda in higher education. In this study, we seek to understand if the changes students make in light of academic failure are consistent with this literature. Little is known about students who fail but subsequently persist in their studies. Through an online survey with students who had failed and persisted, we identified drivers for persistence and how students adapted in response to academic failure. Thematic analysis showed that the majority of students did not seek institutional support following academic failure but they did seek support from peers, family and friends. These adaptations occurred at multiple levels: dispositional, situational and institutional. Drivers reported were internal (desire to complete) and external (desire to meet expectations). Although the majority of our students showed positive adaptations following academic failure, a significant portion reported no changes to their academic strategies. The paper poses the question of how students who fail can be better supported to continue successfully.

Published: 2019-12-13
Pages:84 to 91
How to Cite
Ajjawi, R., Boud, D., Zacharias, N., Dracup, M., & Bennett, S. (2019). How Do Students Adapt in Response to Academic Failure?. Student Success, 10(3), 84-91.

Author Biographies

Deakin University
Australia Australia

Rola Ajjawi Associate Professor in educational research at the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE), Deakin University. Her research seeks to promote student success and professional learning especially in work-integrated learning. She uses innovative qualitative approaches to better understand the social, relational and emotional dimensions of learning.

Deakin University
Australia Australia

David Boud is Alfred Deakin Professor and Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning, Deakin University. He is also Emeritus Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Professor in the Work and Learning Research Centre, Middlesex University, London.

Swinburne University of Technology
Australia Australia

Nadine Zacharias is Associate Professor and Director, Student Engagement at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research expertise and interests relate to equity policy and program management as well as inclusive teaching and learning in higher education. Nadine has led major research projects related to access and participation in higher education by students from under-represented groups, including a multi-stakeholder study of widening participation through school-university partnerships in Queensland.

Deakin University
Australia Australia

Mary Dracup leads an inclusive education project in Deakin University’s central learning-teaching unit, Deakin Learning Futures. This project aims to embed inclusive education principles and practices in course and unit design, teaching practice, assessment and feedback, learning environments and student support, with the goal of improving success and retention of all students.

University of Wollongong
Australia Australia

Sue Bennet is Professor and Head of School of Education at the University of Wollongong. Her area of expertise is in information and communication technologies in education. Her research investigates how people engage with technology in their everyday lives and in educational settings. She has extensive experience in the design, development and evaluation of multimedia and on-line instructional materials developed for both university and commercial clients.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795