7 Features Of The Ideal Online Course To Prevent Drop Outs

7 Features Of The Ideal Online Course To Prevent Drop Outs
Summary: There is an urgent need to dig deeper into likely causes for learner apathy and look for ways to make learning helpful and engaging in order to prevent drop outs. Often the reasons for disinterest among learners are rather basic. In my view, there are 7 crucial features that play part in the success or failure of an online course.

How To Prevent Drop Outs: Crucial Features Of The Ideal Online Course

Before we delve into the topic of how to prevent drop outs, let me begin with some unsavory stats on online learning.

A study in 2013 found that 90% of MOOC learners fail to complete courses. Many don’t even start the courses for which they are registered. The apathy, it is argued, could be because in many cases online education is still formatted like classroom lectures.

Another plausible reason offered is that many online courses fail to captivate easily distracted, constantly connected people on the same computers, smartphones, and tablets where they will be learning.

Surprisingly, the high drop out rate was a cause for concern even 15 years back. At that time, people didn’t have so many connected devices as today.

Back then some of the main reasons why learners dropped out were found to be:

  • Lack of motivation.
  • Problems with technology.
  • Lack of student support.
  • Poorly designed course.
  • Substandard and/or inexperienced instructors.

For an instructor, the last one is damning. Overall though there is this common feeling that online lessons are often made as the instructor deems fit and not from the angle of adaptability by the students.

One may argue however that even if it is done the other way around (after extensive research into students’ requirement) there may still be instances where learners find the lessons difficult to understand and retain.

Such possibilities will always remain. Objectively speaking, just as not all fingers are equal, in the same way, the ability to grasp lessons will vary from learner to learner.

Since eLearning is now widely accepted at all levels of education and training as the best mode for knowledge sharing, there is an urgent need to dig deeper into the likely causes for learner apathy and look for ways to bring about helpful and effective learning.

As a longtime instructor with varied experience, I believe the reasons for disinterest among the learners are rather basic. In my opinion, there are 7 crucial features that play part in the success or failure of an online course. They are also the potential areas offering maximum scope to engage with learners to make their study useful and helpful.

1. Avoid Information Overload

Some time back I was making video lessons for a client for law students. The main presentation and all the slides were jam packed with loads and loads of information. Although my scope of work didn’t include tinkering any inputs, I was nonetheless left squirming with great unease as I completed that job.

Information overload or infobesity or infoxication is a sure disaster that can happen to an online course. As a thumb rule, if you cannot explain a topic in 3 minutes’ flat, you ought to break it up into 2+ lessons. Sometimes, the 3 minutes can extend to a max of 5 minutes, no more.

2. Make Explanations Simple

For a teacher, the main target is to help students learn. And since not all students are of same caliber or aptitude, it is important to explain things as simply as possible, and in a friendly, engaging way. There is no hard and fast rule how you do this, I believe you should be able to broadly explain the topic to someone completely uninitiated (say, your dad, mom, or aunt) to ‘pass’ this test.

3. Ask Friendly Quizzes

The idea here is to stop the learners from drifting away. Intersperse your lessons with small, friendly, intelligent quizzes, embedding them in video tutorials. These quizzes will come unannounced but should be easy to answer. This technique is more akin to asking a simple question to a student who is caught napping in the class.

4. Provide Helpful Supplements

A few months back I attended an online training on working solo. The video lessons were, in fact, live teachings on Hangout, each lasting 75 to 90 minutes. I could watch them later as many times I wanted.

However, I sorely felt the need of video transcripts since it was impossible to re-check ‘particular’ portions in the lessons unless I watched the entire videos.

Just a small gap like this can make the learning painful for your students making them skip the lessons.

5. Use Training Materials Intelligently

There are just 4 media formats you can use for teaching and to communicate with the learners – text, image, audio, video. Add presentation to this list, and that’s pretty much all that are used for creating online lessons.

To large extent, the success of a course depends on how effectively and intelligently the 5 media are used. Here are some notable examples for considering different media formats for various courses.

  • For developers and coders, the preference is divided between texts and video, with a tilt favoring texts with good visuals for creating tutorials.
  • Fitness classes almost always have videos. Same for cooking lessons. The reason? They are mainly demonstrative training. And what can make demonstration better if not a video?
  • If, however, you are into personality development training you might prefer audio podcasts over videos. Your students will certainly prefer that over videos or presentations.
  • On the other hand, management skills training depends heavily on presentations or slide-based videos. Students need both the texts on the screen, and the audio lecture to understand the concepts.

6. Avoid Technical Jargons

Humans are not infallible. We are guilty of the tendency for constantly trying to impress others. Online instructors are hardly any different. Thus, we often take recourse to high-sounding jargons to explain something that can be easily avoided with a bit of thinking.

Jargons always confuse learners and once the feeling sinks in that your lessons are difficult to understand, it is very tough to regain their trust.

If you must use some ‘technical’ explaining, spend the time to deal on that and if necessary, introduce a friendly quiz to get some feedback to gauge the ability of the students.

7. Update Lessons 

I know how important this is because I’m personally guilty of this. Some years back I created a handy online course on redesigning WordPress theme. It was very well received in the first 8-9 months but soon lost steam because I hadn’t been updating the lessons.

In my experience, you need to make changes to your lessons even if you’re teaching eternal topics like the Newton’s Laws of Motion or solving a quadratic equation. It’s like buying newly published textbooks even if there are only small changes in the fresh editions.

And of course, have no doubt that you must update your online courses when you’re teaching ever-changing subjects like SEO, coding JavaScript, web design, writing a resume, social media marketing, leadership, etc.


Researchers are a worried lot when they find that instructors spend enormous time and resources to create online courses which few learners study.

New teaching concepts like adaptive learning are gaining ground that aims to transform the learner from passive receptor of information to collaborator in the educational process.

None, however, can altogether prevent drop outs unless there is a genuine desire to create courses that go hand-in-hand with the 7 important features explained above.

What do you think about effective online teaching? Leave your comments below.