Variables Associated With Achievement in Higher Education: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses

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Abstract

The last 2 decades witnessed a surge in empirical studies on the variables associated with achievement in higher education. A number of meta-analyses synthesized these findings. In our systematic literature review, we included 38 meta-analyses investigating 105 correlates of achievement, based on 3,330 effect sizes from almost 2 million students. We provide a list of the 105 variables, ordered by the effect size, and summary statistics for central research topics. The results highlight the close relation between social interaction in courses and achievement. Achievement is also strongly associated with the stimulation of meaningful learning by presenting information in a clear way, relating it to the students, and using conceptually demanding learning tasks. Instruction and communication technology has comparably weak effect sizes, which did not increase over time. Strong moderator effects are found for almost all instructional methods, indicating that how a method is implemented in detail strongly affects achievement. Teachers with high-achieving students invest time and effort in designing the microstructure of their courses, establish clear learning goals, and employ feedback practices. This emphasizes the importance of teacher training in higher education. Students with high achievement are characterized by high self-efficacy, high prior achievement and intelligence, conscientiousness, and the goal-directed use of learning strategies. Barring the paucity of controlled experiments and the lack of meta-analyses on recent educational innovations, the variables associated with achievement in higher education are generally well investigated and well understood. By using these findings, teachers, university administrators, and policymakers can increase the effectivity of higher education.

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