Thursday, July 19, 2012

10 Best Practices for Student Retention in Online Courses

Student retention in an online course or program is absolutely vital. However, this continues to be a potent issue in many online programs. In the IDPT Program at Franklin University, we have recently focused on this topic.

To provide insight on this issue, a former coworker of mine, Kevin Shanley, recently reviewed the literature on the most important factors in retaining students in online courses. His focus was on general education courses at the undergraduate level, but I believe that most of the recommendations can and should be applied in in nearly all online courses. I provide a summary of his suggestions below, but I definitely recommend reviewing his entire publication. He provides some excellent ideas on improving student retention. (Here is a link to his review of literature.)

Summary of strategies for improving online student retention:
  1. support services - provide students with technology and other support
  2. early submission of work - allow students to get feedback on assignments before final submission
  3. clear expectations - be clear about work and grading expectations
  4. orientation - overview course and assignments at the beginning of each course
  5. content relevancy and accuracy - be sure everything is up to date in your course
  6. faculty preparedness - make sure faculty understand their expectations
  7. student control - allow students to have some control over the learning process
  8. age factors - be aware of age factors affecting student success
  9. participation - encourage participation from all students
  10. social integration - ensure plenty of relevant, positive social interaction
These strategies can be organized according to different levels within the university or college offering the course or program:
  1. University Level
  2. Program/Department Level
  3. Course Design Level
  4. Instructor Level
The difficult thing in implementing these and other strategies is that support must be provided at all levels. Without the necessary infrastructure and support from the university, student success is unlikely. Without support and resources from the program level, implementing effective course design and staffing with quality instructors is not possible. Without excellent course design, students are less likely to persist and succeed. And without great instructors, student success diminishes.

So, what are your best strategies for improving student retention in online courses?  I am definitely interested in hearing best practices that I can use in my own program and teaching.

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