Mattering vs belonging and the impact of academic advisors: online professional part-time students – a case study


  • Jacqui Thijm University College of Estate Management



belonging, mattering, online


Belonging is not a new concept, it has been around for some time in Higher Education. The “What works? Student retention and success” report concluded that “belonging is critical to student retention and success” (Thomas, 2012). However, this can be difficult to achieve for some students such as those who study online. The research around a sense of belonging amongst online students is limited (Peacock et al., 2020), who have limited time and opportunities to participate in activities used to promote belonging at universities. With an increase in online and blended courses within higher education (Dunford and Miller, 2018), mattering maybe a more important factor for such students.

 Mattering as defined by Dixon and Tucker (2008), is an individual’s perception that they are important and are valued in their interpersonal relationships (2008). Academic advisors have a key role in mattering, by building individual relations with students they can have a positive impact on feelings of mattering. McIntosh et al. (2020 [online]) found that students who feel supported by their academic advisors go on to have successful tutoring relationships.

In a case study conducted within a Higher Education institute that provides fully online courses for part-time professional students, the author examined feelings of mattering and belonging amongst level 5 and 6 undergraduate students. The case study found that the individual mattering relationships were more important than belonging to students who participated in the study. Students valued members of staff who went “above and beyond” and showed care and mattering. Academic Advisors were key members of staff for these mattering relationships.

If students feel that they matter, this may well lead to an increased feeling of belonging and this is something that should be explored further.

Author Biography

Jacqui Thijm, University College of Estate Management

Jacqui Thijm is a Project Tutor at the University College of Estate Management. Jacqui works with and supports project students on their dissertation modules. Jacqui’s research interests focus on the experiences of online students.


Dixon, A. and Tucker, C. (2008). Every student matters: Enhancing strengths-based school counseling through the application of mattering. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), p.2156759X0801200205

Dumford, A. Miller, A. (2018) Online learning in higher education: exploring advantages and disadvantages for engagement. J Comput High Educ 30, 452–465.

McIntosh, E., Troxel, W., Grey, D., Van Den Wijngaard, O. and Thomas, L. (2020). Academic Advising And Tutoring For Student Success In Higher Education: International Perspectives.Available at:

[Accessed 1 September 2022]

Peacock, S., Cowan, J., Irvine, L., and Williams, J. (2020). An exploration into the importance of a sense of belonging for online learners. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(2), pp.18-35.

Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change, Final Report, What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Higher Education Funding Council for England, The Higher Education Academy and Action on Access.




How to Cite

Thijm, J. (2023) “Mattering vs belonging and the impact of academic advisors: online professional part-time students – a case study”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1091.

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