Improving Course Completion Rates Requires A Multi-Pronged Approach

Improving Course Completion Rates Requires A Multi-Pronged Approach
Summary: Low course completion rates are the Achilles heel of the eLearning industry. Platform operators need to attack the problem from several angles to fix it. Here's where they should begin.

How To Improve Course Completion Rates

For the past several years, experts and industry observers have declared eLearning to be the future of educational attainment. There are plenty of factors that support that point of view. First and foremost is the unprecedented reach that eLearning platforms enjoy. Only slightly less important is the economy of scale that can be reached by serving large numbers of students over a vast geographic area. Any way you look at it, eLearning is more efficient than traditional, location-based education.

For all of the good that has come of the rise of eLearning, though, there are still some pretty significant issues holding the industry back. Chief among them is the dismal completion rates that tend to plague eLearning platforms of all kinds. The rates are so low, in fact, that you'll scarcely find an operator that's willing to publish theirs. One study puts the average completion rates of MOOC programs at a measly 15%, and more individualized online coursework doesn't fare much better, with some researchers finding a 12-point completion differential favoring in-person courses, and better outcomes, too.

An Achilles Heel

Completion rates are an issue that the eLearning industry, as a whole, is going to have to solve as we move further into the 21st century to continue on a growth trajectory. The problem is, however, that most of the efforts being made to increase completion rates revolve around the nebulous concept of 'engagement', which is difficult to quantify and even harder to design around. Instead, what's needed is a more holistic approach that considers the 'why' of the problem, rather than just the problem itself. Here are 3 areas that are worth exploring in the quest to solve the problem of low course completion rates.

1. Help Students Prepare To Learn

When a student attends a brick-and-mortar school, they have already made an affirmative choice that signifies that they're ready to learn. In school, they can't walk away if they become bored or distracted; they're there for the duration. For online learning platforms to increase their completion rates, they must first recognize that their flexibility is not just an asset, but a liability, as well. Since students can take part in eLearning from almost anywhere, they must deal with students in distracting environments with no shortage of built-in excuses to walk away. To overcome that, it's essential to help teach students the preparatory skills they'll need to succeed in an online course. For example, offering a mandatory primer course on preparing a study environment, effective time management, and learning to use available help resources can go a long way towards increasing the odds of completion in all subsequent courses.

2. Focus On Modularity

Although the available research regarding eLearning completion rates paints a bleak picture of the situation in the industry, it also points towards a potential solution. The research also indicated a negative correlation with course length, meaning that the odds of completion improved as the total time requirement decreased. For eLearning coursework designers, that should point to a new roadmap for success. To optimize courses for maximum completion, they should be broken down into the smallest possible unit sizes. Efforts to do so should be coupled with increased course selection assistance and better self-selection information, so students can create a map of how the smaller courses fit together to form a comprehensive education on a given subject.

3. Increase Rewards-Based Learning

One of the surest ways to increase course completion rates is to introduce an incentive system. In the eLearning space, where there's a vast array of freely available courses competing for attention, that isn't always seen as an economically viable option. That doesn't mean that it's not possible, however. For eLearning platforms that offer a mixture of free and paid coursework, the solution is to offer credits for course completion that apply to subsequent, related courses. This incentivizes the user to finish what they start, as they'll be earning the ability to go further through their hard work. There's at least one eLearning business that's already applying cryptocurrency technology as a knowledge rewards mechanism, and that may be the model that the rest of the industry comes to adopt in the coming years as the ultimate solution to improving completion rates.

Engagement Begins With Motivation

The reason that these 3 areas are worth exploring to improve completion rates is that they focus on the whole process of learning, rather than focusing on retaining interest. The reality is that no course will remain interesting at all times for all students, so continuing to tweak content is a futile way to approach low completion rates. Instead, improvements in the areas discussed here attack the problem in 3 distinct ways. They help students prepare to handle the demands of the courses, cut them down to manageable sizes, and reward their success. That should ease students' burden while giving them a vested interest in seeing their chosen courses through, even if they don't always find the contents themselves all that engaging, and that will keep them coming back for more.