A Quick Way To Cut Online Student Drop Out Rates

A Quick Way To Cut Online Student Drop Out Rates
Summary: Most approaches to reducing online student drop out rates are long term strategies. Here's a quick, easy way to encourage students to stay in your courses - starting right now.

How To Cut Online Student Drop Out Rates 

Online student drop out rates keep plenty of us up at night. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep learners interested, on track, and motivated to complete their courses. And there are many strategic ways to do that.

For example, you can:

  • Create more engaging course material.
  • Make eLearning more relevant.
  • Appeal to different learning styles.
  • Incorporate learner-friendly Instructional Design.

Each of these approaches can certainly make a difference. Many can actively reduce your online student drop out rates – over the long term.

But these strategies take time, and access to competitive resources. It can be a struggle to get organizational support to give your course the revamp it may desperately need.

And in the meantime, those drop out rates show no sign of slowing down.
So here’s something you can do right now.

You can encourage your students to contact you directly for help.

It sounds so simple, but are you actually doing it?
Or do you assume that students with problems will automatically reach out?

I’ve found that often they won’t.

Many of them do need help. But they may hesitate to ask for it, because:

  • They don’t want to bother you.
  • They don’t think they’re “allowed” to ask questions.
  • They think eLearning is a solo journey, and they’d better soldier on alone.
  • They feel that asking for help is an admission of weakness.
  • They don’t want to look stupid.
  • They think they “should” be able to work it out on their own.

These are the kinds of students who suffer in silence. They need your help – urgently. But they don’t know it’s there for the asking.

Before long, these students will decide that eLearning is “too hard” ,or “not for me”. So what they do next is no surprise. They feel overwhelmed, alone...

And they drop out.

So for many students, knowing that help is available is a game changer.

By encouraging questions, you open the door to communication. You make it possible for them to ask for help.

But won’t this lead to an avalanche of student email?

I worried about this initially, too. The last thing I need is 100 more daily emails. But I’ve found that being more approachable hasn’t led to a noticeably bigger workload.

The students who already email you four times a day with questions will do that anyway. They tend to be either high achieving (or overly anxious) and they don’t need an invitation to contact you.

But what about the adult learner sitting alone with her computer at 11.30pm after a long day at work? She’s hit a road block with Assignment 2. It’s due next week, and she’s completely stuck. She feels frustrated and panicky, and from here, she’s likely to either:

  1. Give up, stop engaging with the course and eventually drop out,
  2. Remember your welcome email where you directly invited her to, “Just ask if you have any questions”.
    She sends you an email, your reply solves her problem, and she gets back on track with her work the next evening. She feels reassured and supported. She takes another step towards the course finish line. And that student-saving email took you about 30 seconds to write.

I’ve found that moving students past road blocks towards the end of the course hasn’t added significantly to my workload. But any kind of time investment takes some serious justification, I know. We already have more than enough to do.

To my mind, though, this approach to student support is easy to justify.
And here’s why.

When you encourage contact, you create happier students who feel they’re being heard and helped, rather than abandoned and ignored. The finish line comes back into focus for them, and that results in lower drop out rates for you.

So try asking learners to contact you with their questions. Add a simple sentence about your availability to student emails, announcements and any other high traffic areas of your Learning Management System.

When at-risk learners know there’s a safety net in place, they have more options than to drop out. You can help make sure they know that.

How do you encourage students to stay in your courses?