How to improve online student retention (Yes, it can be done)

Enrollment in virtual courses is growing, but so is attrition

Retaining online students is more important than ever as demand grows for online courses and pressure rises to increase retention rates, writes Philip DiSalvio, dean of the college of advancing and professional studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston

DiSalvio recently spoke to The EvoLLLution about using data and analytics to support the success of online students.

Challenges facing online students

DiSalvio emphasized the need for metrics and quality measurements that are tailored to the online learner, rather than the traditional classroom experience.

DiSalvio points out that online learning is more independent and autonomous, which requires a particular level of self-accountability and discipline. For example, students are responsible for letting their instructors know if they are falling behind, whereas in a classroom they may have received unsolicited, but well-needed guidance. On top of this, there are technical issues, a greater emphasis on written communication, and digital literacy to deal with.

Creating community for online students

Retaining online students

DiSalvio has three suggestions for serving online students better:

  1. Use data analytics strategically to identify patterns in student engagement and performance, as well as develop tailored strategies to support each student;
  2. Encourage advisors and faculty to use the data to intervene with struggling students;
  3. Mitigate the "distance" in "distance learning" with increased social interactions with instructors and fellow students (DiSalvio, The EvoLLLution, 3/22). 

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