Accountability in educational dialogue on attrition rates: Understanding external attrition factors and isolation in online law school




online legal education, tertiary student attrition, risk factors, institutional commitment, qualitative, attrition risk factors


Australian higher education institutions have focused on attrition rates with increased vigour in light of the introduction of a new student success metric tied to attrition rates. Online programs have been of particular concern given persistently high attrition rates, being roughly double that of programs delivered either face-to-face or in blended online/face-to-face mode. This study considers attrition theory as it has evolved for the online environment with particular reference to the role of external risk factors such as employment, and internal factors, such as social integration. The study presents data from a 2018 survey of students enrolled in a fully online law school program at an Australian university (n = 203). The data reveals a cohort with an array of external attrition risk factors, who are not only time poor but experience a strong sense of isolation. The study contributes to the attrition literature by providing insights into effective educational design and delivery aimed at student retention.

Implications for practice or policy

  • Online program convenors ought to consider the attrition risk factors at issue in their cohort before designing comprehensive retention initiatives and plans.
  • Instructors ought to consider external attrition factors, such as family and employment demands, when selecting and designing student assessments.
  • Instructors ought to realistically appraise retention initiatives, such as social media initiatives, to address internal risk factors of perceived isolation and institutional commitment.


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Author Biographies

Amanda-Jane George, Central Queensland University

Dr Amanda-Jane George is the research coordinator for the CQU Law Discipline. She brings commercial law experience from her career at several major Brisbane law firms, where she practised in intellectual property law, technology licensing, competition law, and commercial contract law issues. Her teaching and research builds on this experience. Amanda-Jane has published and been active in making submissions to government inquiries in various areas of law, including intellectual property (particularly trade marks and patent law); technology licensing; public law and executive power; competition law. Her scholarship focuses on connectedness in online learning. Amanda-Jane has received funding from the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, and Central Queensland University in relation to her projects.

Alexandra McEwan, Central Queensland University

Alexandra McEwan teaches Equity and Trusts. Her research centres on animal protection law, framed in terms of human obligations to other species and the environment. Alexandra aims to apply theoretical and methodological approaches that provide insight into the complexities inherent in the role of law as it relates to non-human species and use these insights to influence law and policy reform, practice, and regulatory frameworks.

Alexandra’s work is informed by critical criminal law, Pierre Bourdieu, and anthropological theory and practice. She is currently undertaking research on wildlife protection in Vietnam as part of a CQU new staff research grant.

Her learning and teaching research activities centre on student engagement and attrition risks in the online teaching environment.

Julie-Anne Tarr, Queensland University of Technology

Professor Tarr has diverse background in: commercial and business law, corporate administration,not-for-profit change management. She has previously held senior appointments in: •the United States (Indiana) •Australia (where she has taught at Monash, Bond and University of Queensland) •the University of the South Pacific. In addition, she has served as the General Manager, CEO or Director of a range of organisations including: •Queensland Institute of Medical Research •Indiana University’s International Programs Office •USP Solutions (the private commercial arm of the University of the South Pacific) •Litigation Reform Commission (Qld). Professor Tarr has authored six books and a range of articles in the insurance, risk management and commercial practices areas; held a number of Board appointments; and worked extensively as a consultant in the private commercial sector.




How to Cite

George, A.-J., McEwan, A., & Tarr, J.-A. (2021). Accountability in educational dialogue on attrition rates: Understanding external attrition factors and isolation in online law school. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 37(1), 111–132.