Vol. 31 No. 1 (2016)
Research Articles

Distance Learning Postgraduate Student Stress while Writing a Dissertation or Thesis

Fortunate T Silinda
School of Interdisciplinary Research, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa
Michael R Brubacher
School of Interdisciplinary Research, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa
Published July 22, 2016
  • distance learning,
  • graduate/postgraduate students,
  • stressors,
  • stress,
  • dissertation or thesis writing
How to Cite
Silinda, F. T., & Brubacher, M. R. (2016). Distance Learning Postgraduate Student Stress while Writing a Dissertation or Thesis. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education / Revue Internationale Du E-Learning Et La Formation à Distance, 31(1). Retrieved from https://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/958


Working on a postgraduate degree can be a stressful experience for students, including distance learning postgraduate students who are at the stage of writing their dissertation or thesis. In this mixed methods study, 748 distance learning postgraduate students who were enrolled at a South African university and were engaged in the dissertation or thesis stage, completed an online questionnaire about potential stressors and experienced stress. Quantitative and qualitative data both indicated two general sources of stress: 1) uncertainty about the research/writing process along with insufficient support from supervisors, and 2) difficulties with time management. Issues pertaining to relationships, health, and finances were not as strongly related to overall stress. The findings suggest that universities with distance learning postgraduate programs could help their students by offering training or counselling services that are tailored to their needs, such as in how to balance academic work with family and employment responsibilities. Other implications include improving how supervisors assist distance learning postgraduate students, such as in maintaining regular contact with students, expediting the provision of feedback, and improving clarity in correspondence, to help ensure that distance learning students receive the guidance they require when writing their dissertation or thesis.

Le fait de travailler sur un diplôme d’études supérieures peut être une expérience stressante pour les étudiants, y compris les étudiants au cycle supérieur en apprentissage à distance qui en sont à l’étape de rédaction de leur mémoire ou thèse. Dans cette étude de méthodes mixtes, 748 étudiants au cycle supérieur en apprentissage à distance qui étaient inscrits dans une université sud-africaine et avaient commencé l’étape de mémoire ou de thèse ont rempli un questionnaire en ligne sur les facteurs de stress potentiels et le stress vécu. À la fois les données quantitatives et qualitatives ont indiqué deux sources générales de stress: 1) l'incertitude sur le processus de la recherche/processus d'écriture au même titre que le soutien insuffisant de la part des superviseurs, et 2) des difficultés avec la gestion du temps. Les questions relatives aux relations, la santé et les finances n’ont pas été aussi fortement liées au stress global. Les résultats suggèrent que les universités avec des programmes de cycles supérieurs d'apprentissage à distance pourraient aider leurs étudiants en proposant de la formation ou des services de counseling adaptés à leurs besoins, comme de quelle façon équilibrer le travail universitaire avec les responsabilités familiales et professionnelles. D'autres implications comprennent l'amélioration de la façon dont les superviseurs aident les étudiants au cycle supérieur en apprentissage à distance, tel que de maintenir un contact régulier avec les étudiants, d’accélérer la fourniture de rétroaction, et l'amélioration de la clarté dans la correspondance, pour aider à faire en sorte que les étudiants en apprentissage à distance reçoivent l’encadrement dont ils ont besoin lors de la rédaction de leur mémoire ou thèse.


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