Students’ academic engagement during COVID-19 times: a mixed-methods study into relatedness and loneliness during the pandemic

Laura Hendrick*, Marie-Christine Opdenakker, Wander van der Vaart

*Corresponding author voor dit werk

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

1 Citaat (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


The COVID-19 outbreak forced higher education students to study online-only.
Previous research indicates that forced solitude or loneliness can cause a variety
of problems for students, among which is reduced academic engagement. The
Basic Psychological Needs Theory, a sub-theory of Self-Determination Theory,
relates academic engagement to three basic psychological needs (autonomy,
competence and relatedness), whereas varying theories on loneliness highlight
the complexities of engaging in a learning environment whilst feeling lonely. As
university staff members have been struggling to keep students on task since the COVID-19 outbreak, the need arose for more knowledge about to what extent students have felt lonely, frustrated or satisfied in their need for relatedness and to what extent this affected their academic engagement. A convergent Mixed Methods research study was conducted among university students (N =  228) and an online questionnaire was administered to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. A series of multiple hierarchical regression analyses were performed, considering demographic characteristics, to analyze the quantitative data. Qualitative data was coded using a hybrid approach of deductive and inductive coding. Themes were generated that depicted in-depth issues of relatedness, loneliness, and academic engagement. Quantitative analysis demonstrated the importance for academic engagement of both (a) ‘basic need satisfaction and frustration’ of relatedness in life and in ‘social study context’, and (b) feeling (emotionally) lonely. The negative impact of frustration of relatedness seemed to be dominant but also overlapped with the effects of loneliness. The qualitative outcomes support and complement these quantitative results. The results showed that students’ academic engagement suffered from the loss of a shared physical space and from uncertainty about university policies. For a minority of students, however, the relief from social obligations that came along with social distancing was a blessing in disguise.
Originele taal-2English
Aantal pagina's16
TijdschriftFrontiers in Psychology
StatusPublished - 2023


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