Attitudes, Barriers and Motivators as Factors for Sustainability of Higher Education e-Learning Programmes at Universidade Aberta, Portugal

  • Paula Bacelar-NicolauEmail author
  • Sandra Caeiro
  • Ana Paula Martinho
  • Ulisses Miranda Azeiteiro
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


In higher education distance learning institutions, where studies are carried on through a variety of distance learning regimes, from the correspondence and earlier forms of distance education to fully online e-learning programmes, and where planners and administrators seize the effective adoption and deployment of technology-enabled education, student attitude and motivation assume considerable significance. Attitudinal pre-dispositions, institutional and allied barriers (including appropriate policy initiatives), besides the scientific and pedagogical quality of degree programmes are assumed to play a crucial role in sustainability of higher education systems. This article reports the findings of a study conducted at Universidade Aberta, Portugal—the Portuguese Distance Learning Education University—to examine student attitudes towards e-learning and to identify barriers and motivators of e-learning adoption, which are key factors for decreasing dropout rates of a 2nd cycle degree e-learning programme, analysed as a case study.


Higher education Distance learning Barriers and motivators Dropout rates Sustainability 


  1. Araque F, Roldan C, Salguero A (2009) Factors influencing university dropout rates. Comput Educ 53:563–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ariwa E (2002) Evaluation of the information, communication and technology capabilities and online learning. USDLA J 16(11):59–63Google Scholar
  3. Bacelar-Nicolau P, Martinho AP, Amador F, Caeiro S,, Azeiteiro UM (2012) Online learning for sustainability: the student perception in an environmental science post-graduation. In: Gonçalves F, Pereira R, Leal-Filho W, Azeiteiro UM (eds) Contributions to the N decade of education for sustainable development in the series Umweltbildung, Umweltkommunikation und Nachhaltigkeit—Environmental Education, communication and sustainability, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 33, 281–294Google Scholar
  4. Bacelar-Nicolau P, Caeiro S, Martinho AP, Azeiteiro UM (2009) E-learning for the environment. The Universidade Aberta (Portuguese Open Distance University) experience in the environmental sciences post-graduate courses. Int J Sustain High Educ 10(4):354–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bardin L (1977) Análise de Conteúdo, Edicções 70, Lisbon (in Portuguese)Google Scholar
  6. Cebrian G, Grace M, Humphris D (2013) Organisational learning towards sustainability in higher education. Sustain Account Manag Policy J 4(3):285–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cingano F, Coppoli P (2003) Determinants of university drop-out probability in Italy. Bank of Italy—Research Department, Rome Accessed 23 Apr 2014
  8. Crompton S, Roy R, Caird S (2002) Household ecological footprinting for active distance learning and challenge of personal lifestyles. Int J Sustain High Educ 3(4):313–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Csete J, Evans J (2013) Strategies for impact: enabling e-learning project initiatives. Campus-Wide Inf Syst 30(3):165–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (1994) Introduction the discipline and practice of qualitative research. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) Handbook of qualitative research. Sage Publications, London, pp 1–20Google Scholar
  11. Dirkx JM, Jha LR (1994) Predicting rapid completion, persistence, and attrition in Adult Basic Education. Adult Educ Quart 45(1):269–285Google Scholar
  12. Eisenberg E, Dowsett T (1990) Student dropout from a distance education project course: A new method analysis. Distance Educ 11(2):231–253Google Scholar
  13. Fontana A, Frey JH (1994) Interviewing the art of science. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds) Handbook of qualitative research. Sage Publications, London, pp 361–376Google Scholar
  14. Habron G, Goralnik L, Thorp L (2012) Embracing the learning paradigm to foster systems thinking. Int J Sustain High Educ 13(4):378–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Levy Y (2007) Comparing dropout and persistence in e-learning courses. Comput Educ 48:185–204Google Scholar
  16. Martinho AP, Caeiro S, Caetano F, Azeiteiro UM, Bacelar-Nicolau P (2014) Training and employability, competences from an e-learning undergraduate programme in environmental sciences. In: Azeiteiro UM, Leal Filho W, Caeiro S (eds) E-learning and sustainability in the series Umweltbildung, Umweltkommunikation und Nachhaltigkeit—Environmental Education, Communication and Sustainability. Peter Lang, Frankfurt (in press)Google Scholar
  17. Myers D, Abell J, Kolstad A, Sani F (2010) Social psychology. McGraw-Hill Education, United States 685 pGoogle Scholar
  18. Moore JL, Dickson-Deane C, Galyenb K (2011) E-learning, online learning, and distance learning environments: are they the same? Internet High Educ 14:129–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Moura APM, Cunha LM, Azeiteiro UM, Aires L, de Almeida MDV (2010) Food consumer science post-graduate courses: comparison of face-to-face versus online delivery systems. Br Food J 112(5):544–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Muilenburg L, Berge Z (2005) Student barriers to online learning: A factor analytic study. Distance Educ 26(1):29–48Google Scholar
  21. OECD (2011) Education at a glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. Accessed 23 Apr 2014
  22. OECD (2013) Education at a glance 2013: OECD indicators, OECD Publishing. Accessed 23 Apr 2014
  23. OECD (2010) Highlights from education at a glance 2010, OECD Publishing. Accessed 23 Apr 2014
  24. Paechter M, Maier B, Macher D (2010) Students’ expectations of and experiences in e-learning: Their relation to learning achievements and course satisfaction. Comput Educ 54:222–229Google Scholar
  25. Panda S, Mishra S (2007) E-learning in a mega open university: Faculty attitude, barriers and motivators. Educ Media Inter 44(4):323–338Google Scholar
  26. Parker A (2003) Identifying predictors of academic persistence in distance education. USDLA J 17(1):55–62Google Scholar
  27. Peltier JW, Schibrowsky JA, Drago W (2007) The interdependence of the factors influencing the perceived quality of the online learning experience: a causal model. J Mark Educ 29(2):140–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pereira A, Mendes AQ, Morgado L, Amante L, Bidarra J (2008) Universidade Aberta’s pedagogical model for distance education. Universidade Aberta, Lisbon. Accessed 20 Dec 13
  29. Quivy R, Campenhoudt L (2003) Manual de investigação em Ciências Sociais. Gradiva, Lisboa, p 290Google Scholar
  30. Roy R, Potter S (2008) Designing low carbon higher education systems. Environmental impacts of campus and distance learning systems. Int J Sustain High Educ 9(2):116–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schnepf SV (2014) Do tertiary dropout students really not succeed in European labour markets?, Discussion Paper No. 8015, Accessed 23 Apr 2014Google Scholar
  32. Shephard K (2008) Higher education for sustainability: seeking affective learning outcomes. Int J Sustain High Educ 9(1):87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sittichai R (2012) Why are there dropouts among university students? Experiences in a Thai University. Int J Educ Dev 32:283–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sun P, Tsai RJ, Finger G, Chen Y, Yeh D (2008) What drives a successful e-Learning? An empirical investigation of the critical factors influencing learner satisfaction. Comput Educ 50:1183–1202Google Scholar
  35. Swan K (2003) Learning effectiveness: what the research tells us. In: Bourne J, Moore JC (eds) Elements of quality online education: practice and direction. The Sloan Consortium, Needham, MA, pp 13–450Google Scholar
  36. Swan K (2004) Learning online: a review of current research on issues of interface, teaching presence and learner characteristics. In: Bourne J, Moore JC (eds) Elements of quality online education: into the mainstream. The Sloan Consortium, Needham, MA, pp 63–80Google Scholar
  37. Wagner N, Hassanein K, Head M (2008) Who is responsible for E-learning success in higher education? a stakeholders’ analysis. Educ Technol Soc 11(3):26–36Google Scholar
  38. Wan Z, Wang Y, Haggerty N (2008) Why people benefit from e-learning differently: The effects of psychological processes on e-learning outcomes. Inform Manag 45:513–521Google Scholar
  39. Xenos M (2004) Prediction and assessment of student behaviour in open and distance education in computers using Bayesian networks. Comput Educ 43(4):345–359Google Scholar
  40. Xenos M, Pierrakeas C, Pintelas P (2002) A survey on student dropout rates and dropout causes concerning the students in the Course of Informatics of the Hellenic Open University. Comput Educ 39:361–377Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paula Bacelar-Nicolau
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sandra Caeiro
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ana Paula Martinho
    • 1
    • 4
  • Ulisses Miranda Azeiteiro
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sciences and TechnologyUniversidade AbertaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Centre for Functional Ecology, Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  3. 3.Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Faculdade de Ciências e TecnologiaUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Laboratory of Distance Education and E-learningUniversidade AbertaLisbonPortugal

Personalised recommendations