Studies show that students withdraw from online courses at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. There are many reasons for students withdrawing from an online course. Some reasons are beyond the instructor’s control. Educators do not like to see students withdraw from courses for the wrong reasons. There are some things instructors can do to improve retention and reduce attrition in online courses.
In a recent blog post, Dr. Peter van Leusen, Instructional Designer for EdPlus at Arizona State University, provided a list of proven strategies that can be implemented on a course level and are based on good principles for teaching (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), adult-learning strategies, and technology solutions. Those strategies are:
- Be present – Instructor presence is key. Make early contact at the start of the class and stay active throughout the course.
- Encourage active learning – Incorporate activities that require students to move from passive consumers to active users of information.
- Set clear expectations – Expectations help students gauge requirements for the course and individual assignments.
- Provide constructive, meaningful and timely feedback – Feedback gives students an indication about their performance. Effective feedback is frequent, prompt, specific, and written in a supportive tone.
- Make course content relevant – Invite guest speakers to provide career specific examples or include “real world” examples to illustrate course content. Design assignments to be flexible and allow students to pursue interests.
- Include collaboration and peer-to-peer communication – A common criticism of online courses is the lack of interaction with peers. Offer opportunities for students to share perspectives, experiences, and learning.
- Guide students to be autonomous – Self-directed learning describes students who take initiative and responsibility for their own learning. This is critical in an online class.
- Collect formative feedback on lesson effectiveness and student comprehension – The decision to review a certain concept or continue often depends on whether students “get it” or not.
- Identify and reach out to struggling students – Utilize an early alert system and reach out to students when necessary to offer support and share available resources to help students get back on track.
If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Dr. Leusen’s "9 Proven Ways for Instructors to Address Online Student Retention" blog post.