Identifying factors influencing study skills engagement and participation for online learners in higher education during COVID-19

Khristin Fabian, Sally Smith, Ella Taylor-Smith, Debbie Meharg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education across the world as campuses closed to restrict the spread of the virus. UK universities swiftly migrated to online delivery. The experiences of students and staff during this transition can inform our return to campus and our ability to deal with future disruption. This study draws on Moore's theory of transactional distance to understand factors influencing student study skills engagement and participation in online learning during this period. We surveyed students (n = 178) in a computing school at a UK university. A partial least squares (PLS) analysis was used to explore the influence of transactional distance (between students/teachers and between students/students), access to e-learning capital, and perceived usefulness on two measures: study skills engagement and participation in online collaborative activity. Results show that transactional distance influences participation, and e-learning capital influences study skills engagement. Our findings suggest that if universities continue with aspects of online learning for previously on-campus students they should provide access to infrastructure and training on utilising the online ecosystem to avoid disadvantaging students. Further investment in students' e-learning capital, such as signposting and adapting existing resources, is also necessary to support this key influence in study skills engagement. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Moore's transactional distance theory recognises that the significant distance of distance learning is not of time or place, but rather a communication and psychological distance between the learner and teacher that is affected by the structure of the course, the dialogue between the learner and teacher, and the autonomy of the learners. Transactional distance affects student engagement. Studies using Davis' technology acceptance model have found perceived usefulness of the virtual learning environment to be an important factor in student engagement with online learning. Computer self-efficacy is a factor related to engagement with digital learning technologies. What this paper adds This study identifies the relationship between factors of transactional distance (transactional distance between student and teacher TDST and transactional distance between students TDSS) with study skills engagement and participation, as mediated by perceived usefulness. We introduce the term e-learning capital as a measure of self-expressed ability (skills and resources) to utilise the online learning environment. This e-learning capital influences students study skills engagement but not participation. Transactional distance between students and teacher did not directly affect study skills engagement or participation. Low student-student transactional distance positively affects participation in online activities and this relationship is mediated by perceived usefulness of these activities. Implications for practice and/or policy Universities should draw on this study's findings in order to focus on students' online study skills engagement and participation for any future online or hybrid online and face-to-face learning. Further investment in students' e-learning capital is necessary as a key influence in study skills engagement and this should be reflected in university policies. Lecturers should direct efforts to signposting the value of participation and academic advisors should reframe practical advice relating to study skills for online learners. This cohort effect of student-student transactions should be encouraged further in online learning activities, including facilitating sharing study approaches.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


  • e-learning capital
  • participation
  • student engagement
  • study skills engagement
  • transactional distance


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