Why online courses have low retention rates-and how to boost them

Retention rates for online courses remains low, but many institutions are having success–here’s how

retention-rates-onlineAcademic leaders are notably more worried about retention rates in online courses now than they were a decade ago.

Forty-one percent of chief academic officers say they agree that retaining students is a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face classes, a new report said. Only 28 percent of respondents felt this way about retention in 2009, and only 27 percent concurred in 2004.

The concerns about student retention were highlighted in a recent survey conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson, and the Sloan Consortium. The survey featured nearly 3,000 institutions responding to questions about online learning.

“Comparing the retention in online courses to those in face-to-face courses is not simple or easy,” the report’s authors wrote. “Online courses can attract students who might otherwise have not been able to attend traditional on-campus instruction because of work, family, or other obligations.”

Low retention rates have plagued online courses for years, but the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has helped shine a brighter spotlight on the issue in recent months. It’s also helped to highlight the fundamental differences between the kinds of students taking, and failing, online courses and those who can typically be found sitting in a campus lecture hall.

(Next page: Are online courses really helping the demographic it wants to serve?)

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