Online Learning: Retention is Everyones Issue

By E. Brown

Outside of the corporate and university eLearning models user retention often runs amuck. It is common to experience as much as 20-50% attrition writes David P. Diaz. In some cases I have witnessed as much as 30-70% for those organizations that do not attempt to stem the flow of abandonment.

Considered the most significant barriers to online learning are:

  1. Technical problems
  2. Cost of and access to the Internet
  3. Time and support for studies
  4. Personal motivation
  5. Technical skills
  6. Academic skills
  7. Social interactions
  8. Administrative/instructor issues

From Keith Tyler-Smith’s Abstract – Early Attrition among First Time eLearners: A Review of Factors that
Contribute to Drop-out, Withdrawal and Non-completion Rates of Adult
Learners undertaking eLearning Programmes

Some favorable strategies I have given to companies in need have been the following:

  • Email inactive users with news and specials (this can be used as a purge letter as well)
  • Offer perks like certificates, free resources, or special content for completions
  • Step up and maintain “community interaction”
  • Add surveys and inventories, etc.
  • Provide free Sample lessons
  • Remember, “Less is More”
  • Scaling pricing model by country code
  • Annual or semi-annual subscriptions
  • Allow Personalization
  • Have give-aways and drawings, etc.
  • Above all, make it fun

In conclusion, Tyler-Smith reminds us:

The problem of dropout rates in eLearning programs has been argued over at length without any consistent conclusions about the magnitude of the problem, or a clear understanding of what can be done about it.

In some respects this may be an evolutionary issue that may, in time, be resolved through improvements in technology, more effective course design, better understanding of online pedagogy and teaching skills, more learner centered design and support and the growth in a learner population for whom the whole notion of learning online is as fundamental as the classroom has been for earlier generations of learners for the last one hundred and fifty years.

The one area where something may be done to reduce attrition is in the early stages of an online course. Cognitive overload is a likely contributor to high drop out rates, particularly where those withdrawing do so within the first few weeks of the start of a course. Greater levels of persistence and completions may be achieved if learners are supported to anticipate, prepare for, recognize and recover from the cognitive burden they may experience as first time eLearners.

The issue of early drop out rates in eLearning needs further research, but it is believed that attending to and explaining how some learners may be affected by cognitive overload and the development of strategies to deal with it will reduce early attrition, improve retention and enhance learning outcomes among mature adult learners engaged in eLearning programs.

Have fun!

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