Based on the facts and figures, it would appear that most colleges are eager to participate in the online learning movement, yet the survey found that only 30.2 percent of officials believed their faculty accepted the value and legitimacy of online education programs. Many of these instructors are concerned with the numerous barriers that online education presents.

Perhaps the most common barrier to online learning’s widespread success is student retention. Though many students initially are attracted to online education programs, some fail to complete assignments on time and follow course structure. Just more than 80 percent of officials cited a lack of discipline as a major problem area in online learning.

If students are signing up for online courses and not completing them, how can colleges improve student retention rates for online courses?

The University System of Georgia (USG) might have some answers.

Improving online outcomes

USG runs its online courses through eCore, a program that recruits highly qualified faculty members from universities within its system to teach online courses.


Many students who sign up for classes through eCore are nontraditional students: older than 22, with family responsibilities and job commitments. A common misconception held by many is that online courses will be simplified versions of traditional face-to-face courses, and students who hold this belief quickly begin to struggle to keep up with the rigor of online curriculum.

“The lack of face-to-face accountability—and disapproving professor looks—requires online students to demonstrate more initiative and strong time management skills,” said Mandy Zatynski in EducationSector’s latest ES Select. “And because half of eCore’s students are 25 years or older, chances are school work is one chore on a long list of things to do—and thus, easy to push to the bottom if work or family lives demand more time.”

eCore aimed to confront such barriers head-on, establishing a student success team in 2007 to target at-risk students and aid them in their online experience. The 14-member team mostly consists of full-time university employees who, every week, are alerted by course professors regarding which students are at risk based on poor scores or failure to attend online discussion boards. Team members contact the at-risk students and connect them with tutors and counselors.

Zatynski explained that team members can make upwards of 600 calls a day from the start of a course until midterm exam week.

“This semester, team members made 1,071 phone calls and sent 1,126 eMails to students who hadn’t logged in by day three,” she said. “The primary reason students hadn’t shown up? They couldn’t find or didn’t know their password.”

(Next page: The results of eCore’s efforts)

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