Hook Them and Keep Them – 5 Tips for Improving Retention in eLearning Courses

Years ago, my high school schedule was completely full. I wanted to take another English course, though, because that was going to be my major in college. With no other option, I enrolled in a “correspondence” course. That’s what they were called in those days. My book and course syllabus were sent to me in the mail, complete with all assignments, mostly essays, along with their deadlines. I had a computer, of course, but there was no method set up to communicate with my instructor except by calling her or sending her my assignments and waiting for the feedback.

That course was the worst I have ever had. It was like an AP English composition course, but I was all alone with my readings and assignments. And the assignments were tougher than any I was receiving in my current English class at school. I struggled through that course and almost dropped it several times. Since then, of course, the correspondence course has evolved into e-learning, and there are opportunities for a far richer experience for students. Unfortunately, the retention rate in these courses is still not what it should be. It’s frustrating for instructors, of course, to have prepared a great course only to have so many drop.

If this is happening in the course(s) you are teaching, check out these 5 tips that may give you a better retention rate.

1. Hook Students with the First Assignment

Develop an assignment that either allows them to be creative, solve a pressing current problem, or tell a story. These are all things that will interest students, and they won’t have to conduct a lot of research. Having a research project or a tough essay at the onset is a real “downer” to kids, and many will decide that the course is going to be too tough for them.

Make the first thing fun and easy – they need to get to know you and their classmates, and the project is a good ice-breaker for everyone to get acquainted.

2. Review the Course Syllabus

If you have taught this course before and had a good number of drop outs, do a little analysis. At what points did the highest number drop out? Could it have been when a particularly challenging assignment or project was assigned or a due date coming up?

You might want to re-think that requirement and see how you can make it more engaging or a bit more simplified. Are other instructors using social media in ways that you are not? Most of your students will be very “social.”

3. Look at Courses that Have High Retention Rates.

Even if the courses are in totally different content fields, a critical piece of retention is in the delivery of instruction. Check out successful courses at Khan Academy, for example. How “social” are the course activities? The more social you can be through discussion boards and such, the more engagement your students will have. Have you set up enough video-conferencing sessions so that students can discuss ideas with each other? Have you planned for enough collaborative projects so that individual students do not feel “on their own?” And are their options for students who prefer to work alone? What have you done to help students with their communication skills?

Many will be overly aggressive; others will be far too passive. If nothing else, give them a guide for effective communication skills that they can refer to.

4. Be an Active Participant

One of the biggest reasons for a high dropout rate is “absence or instructor.” It’s fine to give your students topics, times and dates for discussions, but you must be present too. There has to be leadership so that those discussions do not go awry. Do not assume that your students are mature enough to participate appropriately without you.

5. Be Flexible

Students who enroll in eLearning courses do so for pretty specific reasons. They have a busy schedule, with other coursework or a combination of coursework and job. They may have to miss a conferencing or discussion session; they may not be able to meet a deadline. Tell your students up front that they can contact you with these types of issues, and give to them specific times to do so. Even more important, when you plan your course, develop alternative assignments that can replace some of the things students typically miss. If they know they have an alternative to make up that grade, they are far more likely to stick with the course.

Whether you are a beginner or a veteran in eLearning, delivery opportunities are exploding. The technology is certainly there to plan and deliver an online course that will allow relationship building between you and your students, will give them exciting and engaging activities, and will allow you to have some fun too.

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