The biggest challenge of success in online education isn’t selling—it’s support.
Online education offers learners many benefits—from increased accessibility, flexibility of schedule, and a wider range of courses than traditional education can support. But it does have a down-side, and that is that many learners who sign up for online courses struggle to complete them.
These high failure rates have traditionally been attributed to learner burnout. Burnout is what happens when learners are subjected to increased stress and pressure over a prolonged period of time. Under these conditions, learners who would ordinarily be keen, organized, lively students become harried and apathetic. They can appear “lazy,” “unmotivated,” or “scatterbrained,” when the reality is that they’re working so hard they can’t keep all their plates spinning anymore.
Often times, the circumstances under which learners experience burnout are outside your control. They are the result of life factors that are pushing them to their limit. However, the way you structure your course can be a contributing factor to learner burnout. By changing the way you offer material, you can help learners complete their learning objectives, and improve satisfaction with their learning experience.
So, what can you do to support your students and avoid learner burnout? Try these tips.
1. Break your content into smaller pieces.
Many educators are guilty of content stuffing—that is, overloading course pages with large blocks of content without any breaks. These large content pieces are harder for learners to consume, both because they are tiring to work through, and because they require larger blocks of time to complete.
Learners are more prone to be interrupted mid-lesson, and then have to pick up where they left of at a later date. This makes it harder to remember where they were in the course material, which leads to lower retention.
Content that is broken into smaller pieces is easier to digest, and offers learners easy exit points when they need to take a breather.
2. Drip-feed content to cut down on course binging.
Sometimes a new learner will sign up for a course and burn through several lessons, only to fall off the map after a week. What’s happened is that they’ve consumed content faster than they’ve mastered it. They can’t maintain the pace, and it wears them down.
I did this to myself once when studying Russian. After a day of successfully memorizing an exceptionally long vocabulary list, I grew convinced that I could repeat the feat on consecutive days. After a few days, my brain felt fried and I couldn’t keep it going.
By drip-feeding course content, you can keep your learners engaged for a longer period of time. This also help you control how quickly learners in a cohort advance through material, so that you don’t have one learner getting too far ahead of their peers.
3. Use micro quizzes to improve mastery.
Micro quizzes are a huge aid to learners in that they lower cognitive load and provide learners with an easy check-in point to make sure they’re properly understanding material. By constantly reviewing course material, learners gain a better understanding of what they know well—and what needs more work.
Micro quizzes also have cognitive benefits in immediately reinforcing concepts covered in the material, and in flagging mistakes in learner comprehension before the learner miss-learns them.
Best of all, micro quizzes work well with the previous two tips: Break up your content to make it more accessible, put a micro quiz at the end of each lesson break, and then drip feed micro quizzes throughout the week to keep learners engaged.
4. Encourage learners to participate in the course forum.
Community support is a huge part learner success for many online students. E-learning can be a lonely endeavor, but course forums help learners connect with peers in a meaningful way. They are better able to tackle challenges, talk through content, and even share related articles or ideas from elsewhere on the Internet.
A strong community can also cut down on the amount of time you, the educator, spend in answering learner questions. With a dedicated peer base, learners can learn from each other more quickly than they had to wait in line to talk with you. And often times, learners are more eager to work with each other—and demonstrate what they have learned—than to go directly to the instructor. It’s fun to show you’ve mastered the material, after all!
5. Be ready to provide support when problems arise.
That said, no matter how supportive your community is, nothing will replace what you can give in personal support for learners that truly have run into a wall. In turning to you, learners are hoping to get the final boost they need to cross the finish line. Personal instruction can be invaluable—and learners who understand this are willing to pay for it.
Many instructors include a certain amount of personal consultation built into their online courses—and this is a great idea, as most learners expect at least some feedback if they have a simple question to ask. But those who have more complicated issues may be better served by booking an entire one-on-one lesson via a video call platform. By offering personal tutoring, you can support your learners and improve your profit margins at the same time.
Helping your learners avoid burnout will lead to better outcomes for everyone.
No one signs up for an online course because they want to fail. More so than traditional education, the learners that opt for online content are doing so voluntarily. They are self-motivated and have strong incentives to succeed.
By working with these students and structuring your content in a way that benefits them, will create a course that supports learners. In turn, they will shower you with good reviews and recommendations.
Do your best to reduce learner burnout in your course, and everyone wins.