How can we attract and keep online learners?
I’m off to the Higher Education show at Olympia next week and I’ve got my list of speakers I’d like to see. One of those is the ex-Lib Dem politician, Simon Hughes who is now head of public affairs for the Open University. He will be talking widely about placing technology at the heart of institutions to improve the way we live, work and study. But interestingly he will be covering the subject of overcoming the challenges of getting part-time students to participate through online learning and how to achieve retention rates among online and distance learners.
It’s a subject close to our hearts at Collabco. We know that our millennial students love and even prefer to interact online in everything they do. Learning is no different. Online learning is growing in strength and numbers, but one of the biggest problems it faces is the need to attract and then retain it’s learners – far too many fall by the wayside, and often ‘a lack of discipline’ is given as the reason why they didn’t successfully complete their course.
Technology offers higher education institutions opportunities to improve student retention in online learning programmes by focussing on personalisation, engagement and setting expectations. Student experience is paid a lot of lip service, and there are many new technologies to help with this. Coaching models are being developed to personalise the interaction a student has with the institutions based upon academic progress, and action analytics provide academics with the information required to intervene to help students when they need it most based upon predictive models of success. Adaptive courseware and competency-based education also offer the potential of a personalised way to credential completion. If students can see their personal progress mapped out ahead of them, and the institution can provide the guidance required at the points its needed most, this increases the chances of students sticking to their goals.
Perhaps the biggest potential areas for technological success in retaining online learners are those that enhance student engagement. Technology often provides a way to more easily study and collaborate freeing up time for face-to-face interaction to be more valuable – in the way the flipped class-room works. Social media can support well-established best practices too by allowing peers to support each other at a distance. However, when it comes to interacting with lecturers or the faculty, video, webinars, the ability for those unable to attend to view course components, listen to audio recordings all work to allow students to build up a sense of connection to their tutors and peers without actually having to be present. It’s this style of 21st Century learning that will drive retention and the success of our part-time or remote learners.