Author(s):Kristina Mariager-Anderson (presenting), Bjarne Wahlgren, Vibe Aarkrog (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 05 C, VET Dropout and Completion

Paper Session



Chair:Petri Nokelainen


Staying On Track: New Perspectives And Sustainable Solutions To Dropout For Young Adults

Educational dropout is a serious problem in many countries (Lamb, Markussen, Teese, Samdberg, & Polesel, 2011), and has therefore been of considerable research interest internationally. (Lamote, Speybroeck, Van Den Noortgate, & Van Damme, 2013; Markussen, 2010; Rumberger, 2011). In Denmark this is particularly true for young adult in the age group 18-25. This studyfocuses on dropout amongst this target group for a number of reasons. Firstly, dropout is connected to social marginalization. Completing a vocational education is documented to reduce the risk of marginalization from education and later work life (Jensen & Jensen, 2005). Secondly, despite national and international efforts to reduce dropout rates the numbers are still high. In Denmark, recent numbers show that 44 % of the young adults aged 22-23 who have not completed a youth education programme have at least one drop-out from vocational education. (DI, UU Danmark & AE, 2016, s. 3). Thirdly, dropout is expensive.  Therefore, research into why young adult drop out of the educational system and how to prevent this is vital and relevant within educational research.

While international and national literature points to many different reasons for dropout to occur, e.g.  internal/external factors (Jensen & Larsen, 2011) student-teacher relation (Brown & Katznelson, 2011; Nielsen, 2016; Wahlgren & Mariager-Anderson, 2016), learning environment (Polesel, Nizinska & Kurantowicz, 2011; McGivney, 2003) etc. and to the fact that dropout should be perceived of as a process rather than a spontaneous decision, there is limited research on the competences a teacher or student counsellor need to discover and intervene positively in the process. A study aiming at gaining new knowledge about young adults’ the decision making processes in relation to dropout is thus of interest in both a national and international perspective.

The aim of this study, running from 2017-2019, is to contribute to implementation and anchoring sustainable strategies and methods for retention at vocational colleges and adult educational centers. The main research themes are:

  1. How is the interaction between the different factors in the decision-making process?
  2. What is the basis for the final decision of dropout?
  3. What can colleges do to change the students’ decision to drop out?
  4. If the decision to drop out is made, what can be done to ensure that the student is retained in a positive development and educational process?

The project's theoretical framework combines existing knowledge about drop-out and factors effecting dropout with decision making theory and motivation theory. Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) claims that the strongest predictors of dropout is attitudes, subjective norms and perceived control (Burrus & Roberts, 2012).  Within the field of guidance in a cognitive perceptive inspiration is found in Theory on Cognitive Information Processes. From theories of motivation the study draws on two perspectives. Wlodkowski’s theory of motivation including ’inclusion’ and the importance of the social environment, climate and dialogue (Wlodkowski, 2006) and Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory analyzing motivation in relation to three basic psychological needs, autonomy, competence and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000).  Both approaches emphasize interaction between social relations and motivation. 


The methodology is strongly structured as to provide for a close cooperation between researchers and practitioners. The study thus includes four researchers from Aarhus University and 24 teachers from 12 colleges (five vocational colleges and seven adult education centers).
The cooperation between researcher and practitioners will take place in research circles. This method was developed in the 1970s with strong roots in action research and aims to create a meeting between research and empirical knowledge (Persson, 2010). Research circles sets a framework for constructive cooperation between researchers and practitioners, and the goal is an understanding of the relevance of an issue. The aim of research circles’ work is to integrate practice-based knowledge of the latest research-based knowledge. The participating practitioners acquire new knowledge about the current problem and can as agents of change in their respective institutions use and promote this knowledge.
Research circles offers is a method for development and qualification of practice, which is based on the needs in practice and builds on a long-term collaboration (Hecksher, Thomsen & Nordentoft 2014). The method offers teaching staff a space for reflection on actions, because they will have time and space to explore and develop their own practice (Persson, 2010). The aim of working in research circles is to produce knowledge and specific measures that are readily usable for the participants.

Expected Outcomes

The project aims to develop sustainable solutions to the issue of dropout for young adult in vulnerable situations. This entails creating new research results consisting of knowledge about the process that leads to the decision to drop out, ensuring the applicability of results in relation to the solution of specific drop out problems, implementing and anchoring the new strategies and methods for retention based on developed knowledge about the decision-making process prior to drop-out, and finally contributing to knowledge sharing between colleges and other stakeholders working with the young adults at risk of dropping out.
In August of 2017 the first round of data collection will be completed and it will be possible to provide a preliminary assessment of the study’s themes and assumptions.


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Author Information

Kristina Mariager-Anderson (presenting)
Aarhus University
Department of Education
Copenhagen NV
Bjarne Wahlgren
Aarhus University
Vibe Aarkrog (presenting)
The Danish School og Education Aarhus University
Copenhagen NV