February 12, 2009
Factors that Affect Online Student Retention
Editor’s Note: These suggestions for improving online student retention come from Michael Herbert, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Bemidji State University, where he serves as an online faculty mentor and is on the University’s Center for Extended Learning Committee. In an email interview with Distance Education Report he gave insights he gained from a study of retention at his institution.
1. Online students need to feel integrated into the program and the institution. Research has shown that responsiveness to student’s needs is a critical variable in terms of retention. A sense of belonging as a student, whether traditional or distance learner, has been shown to be an important aspect in retention, and responsiveness to student’s needs is a large determinant in a student feeling like they are part of a course or an institution. Intuitively we can assume that if students are not engaged and do not perceive themselves as an integral part of their environment they will likely choose to leave that environment and seek one where their needs are met.
2. Pedagogy and instructor training affect online student retention. There is a huge (and flawed) assumption that professors who teach on-campus courses can automatically do a good job teaching online courses. Teaching online has its own very distinct set of instructor skills that are essential for an online course to be successful. While online instruction may not have its own separate pedagogy, those professors who teach well in the traditional (on-campus) setting need to add to their skill set those additional unique skills required for a successful online course. So in that sense it may not be a matter of developing a separate pedagogy for online teaching, but expanding those traditional teaching skills with resources that allow an effective transition between on-campus and online course delivery.
3. Family obligations affect online student retention. If we look at retention in terms of categories of variables the most commonly used categories are a) personal variables, b) institutional variables and c) circumstantial variables. With that noted, family obligations would fall under the personal variable category and while my research did not specifically delineate family obligations as a separate response, most research would indicate that family obligations would certainly have an impact on retention for several reasons. These may include the sharing of domestic/household responsibilities, having access to the household computer, and those additional personal responsibilities that are associated with caring for a spouse/significant other and any children or other family members in cases where the student is responsible for the care of an elderly parent or relative.
Excerpted from Get Your Retention Act Together Now: 8 Pieces of Advice, Distance Education Report, May 1, 2007