Worried about your dropout rate? Here’s how to help your learners make it to the end.
The dropout rate for online education is notoriously high, and may even be one of the greatest challenges facing online educators. Learners who don’t complete their course aren’t telling their friends about it, and they’re probably not coming back for more. So, what can you do about it?
If improving your completion rate were easy, then the general concern over the dropout rate would be a thing of the past. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but that’s not to say there aren’t steps you can take to improve course retention. Here’s where to start.
1. Write a comprehensive course description.
Make sure your learners understand what they’re signing up for. A comprehensive course description should include:
- The length of the course and major deadlines. Help your learners mark their calendars for important dates.
- Estimated time commitment. Will your learners need to set aside a few hours a week or a few minutes a day?
- Detailed description of course content. You don’t want a learner disappointed because they thought they were getting something else.
- Prerequisites or required skills. For intermediate or advanced courses within a subject.
- Project assignments. Have a group project planned? An interactive activity? Don’t spring it on your learners without warning.
- Technical requirements. Do your learners need to film themselves for a presentation, or do they need to have any special tools or resources to finish the course? Make sure they are prepared ahead of time.
2. Post reminders and tips to social media.
Encourage your learners to follow you on social media, then post micro content to pique their interest. Help remind them why they signed up for your course in the first place, and build engagement while you’re at it.
3. Use accountability to your advantage.
Communities are a powerful tool, both for breaking down the isolation of online learning and for encouraging learners to come back. Creating an online community helps learners know they’ll be missed if they don’t come back, and the public commitment of working on a course can help learners stay accountable for their goals.
4. Break away from passive learning.
Learners lose interest when an entire course is nothing but PowerPoint videos. Think about structuring course content in a way that will engage the learner, and transform the experience from passive to active learning. This might mean frequent quizzes of two to five questions, an interactive puzzle, or a brief assignment. The more immediate feedback you can provide, the better your learner will remember the lesson.
5. Establish incentives for finishing.
Sometimes, what your learner needs is a little bribery. If they’re starting to lag behind, a special offer, such as an e-book or a free coaching session, could help get them across the finish line. It’s also a smart way to build a connection with your learners and provide some practical advice that will help them put their newfound knowledge to use.
6. Make it easy on mobile.
Mobile learning is leading the charge these days, which means your course should be easy to use on a smartphone. Mobile devices also give you another way to target content to learners while they’re on the go or during brief breaks. Turn boredom into the trigger for entering your classroom, not a reason for leaving it.
7. Provide support.
Pay attention to your learners and be ready to reach out if they’re struggling or falling behind. Use automated emails based on specific triggers to remind learners that you’re ready to offer support, should they need it. Possible triggers could include failing a quiz or not logging in for a certain number of days.
Based on the trigger, you can offer a targeted response. For the absent learner, you could send a short micro video to re-engage them with the content. For the learner who is struggling with the material, you could offer a personal meeting to discuss any of the learners questions.
8. Offer rewards such as points and badges.
Gamification is a popular and effective method for turning course content into a fun competition. By introducing a leaderboard, point-based rewards, and special badges, you can give your learners extra reason to keep coming back. As cheesy as it sounds, most of us like to have a small, outward token of our progress—even if we’re the only ones who know about it.
9. Look to your analytics.
On top of all of these methods, you should still be looking at your analytics. They will give you information about what parts of your course are failing, and which parts are running smoothly.
For instance, if you notice learners are consistently dropping out when they reach a certain module, it could be that the learning curve there is too steep. You may need to split a module in half or add extra material to make sure your learners get through.
Similarly, user data can show you how your learners are engaging with the platform—whether they can find the right materials, whether they can use the course features, and whether the course is usable. Technical difficulties can be tricky to sort out, but it’s much easier to work out a bug in the program than to solve user motivation for all your learners.
Have realistic expectations about your completion rate.
We all want to see a completion rate of 100%. But the reality is that online completion rates may never match those of classroom learning. Unless a learner has a very powerful motivation for finishing the course (their job depends on it, for instance), they’re probably more likely to drop out that complete the course.
Part of that is due to the audience online education attracts. Many online learners view eLearning as less of a commitment than a traditional course. They sign up on a whim without thinking through the decision, and dropout when they decide they’ve had enough.
That’s discouraging, but it can be less so if you adjust your expectations accordingly. Try to attract learners with strong internal and external motivations to complete the course in the first place, make sure they know what they’re signing up for, and provide the community and support they need to see it through. And don’t take it too much to heart if they leave.