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Data & Behavioural Insights

The three psychological stages your students are in right now

Students have a lot of different reasons for starting education and training courses. They also have different attitudes and levels of commitment towards their chosen course or program, which will contribute in a big way to whether they end up completing the course - or falling by the wayside.


In fact, more than any other factor (including a student’s English ability or level of education attainment, right through to whether they can drive, or whether they have their own study space to do their study), attitude turns out to be the strongest influencer of their potential success.


“Attitude, or psychological readiness, is the single greatest moderator of someone’s likelihood of achieving an employment or education outcome,” says ReadyTech General Manager of Esher House, Adrian King.


What are they thinking, really?


A student’s attitude or level of commitment falls into three basic categories. Based on the scientifically evidenced Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change, these predict both a student’s behaviour and participation in their course, as well as their likelihood of eventual completion.


All of your students will be in one of these psychological states – but which one?





Students in the action state are totally up for the course they have enrolled in. With little in the way of hesitation or second thoughts, they enthusiastically pursue the learning opportunities provided, and are likely to be more vocal (positively and sometimes negatively) in their participation.


This is the state we want students to be in. With little risk of non-completion, these students are ready from an attitudinal standpoint to bounce back from setbacks, and will often exhibit better learning outcomes as they are active in pursuing learning and absorbing information and skills.



Unauthentic Action


Students who are ‘wobbly’ in their commitment to their course are in a state of ‘unauthentic action’. This means that, although they may be saying and doing all the right things externally, underneath the surface they are hiding factors that are impacting their level of course commitment.


This puts them at risk of slipping away. Data shows up to 80% of unauthentic actors do not complete. Without the right support or intervention targeted at reassurance and re-engagement, students are likely to slip towards the next stage of disengagement – pre-contemplation.





Students in a pre-contemplation state surprisingly don’t really know why they are in the course they’ve chosen. Whether by chance or by circumstance they find themselves enrolled, but are not at all ready to commit to the course they are in, and are at a very severe risk of dropping out.


Pre-contemplators need the most support to either re-engage with a course or transition to something new. This might mean seeking help to address basics like self-efficacy (such as remembering times they’ve achieved basic things), to build confidence in their abilities.


Adding up the numbers


Comprehensive data from the apprenticeships and trainee market, who have undergone an assessment of readiness designed by ReadyTech’s behavioural science arm Esher House, shows:


  • A large cohort of 40% of new learners are ‘at risk’ at early as the ‘gateway’ stage.
  • 4% identify as ‘wobbly’ or in further need of support to prevent dropping out.
  • 2% were in the pre-contemplation or were not committed at all to being there.


There would be similar cohorts of commitment across the education and training market, whether in VET, or higher education. Early identification of attitude and commitment, in tandem with targeted support, can be all an educator needs to turn students towards action and self-actualisation.