There is an overwhelming amount of literature that addresses strategies to develop and facilitate teaching and learning in the online classroom as a way to engage and retain first-year students. Students and faculty in the online classroom are faced with a unique situation: classes without a physical classroom. Professors are also faced with a unique situation: creating a unified class that is engaged and well informed on the structure of the course in order to create a total learning environment (Quitadamo and Brown 2001).
Today, a vast number of first-year students come from the Millennial Generation, otherwise known as Generation Y, an age group born between 1982 and 2002. Despite myths of laziness, this generation is highly comfortable with the Internet and other technologies, thrive on quick (not too detailed) information, are multi-taskers and visual learners who prefer graphics before text such as hypertext, function best when networked, and demand instant gratification and feedback (Howe and Strauss 2000). Grasha and Yangarber-Hicks (2000) suggested that faculty are pressed with the task of integrating technology into their teaching philosophies, and that technology should be incorporated to engage the millennial first-year student as a means to learn content and support student retention.
First-year students from the Generation Y age group call for utilizing technology in ways such as online quizzes and tests that provide immediate feedback to the students on their performance, discussion boards, embedded media such as YouTube and Twitter feeds, Whiteboards, Podcasts, and automatic graded homework (Wilson 2004). If instructors do not work such strategies into their pedagogy they run the risk of student attrition.
Research suggests that Generation Y first-year students have a high attrition rate as a result of their level of expectations and enthusiasm for the college experience, which often leads to disillusionment. According to Education Dynamics’ November 2008 survey by California State University-Northridge, reasons online students drop out include financial challenges (41%), life events (32%), health issues (23%), lack of personal motivation (21%), and lack of faculty interaction (21%). Among online students who dropped out of their degree or certificate programs, 40% percent failed to seek any help or resources before abandoning their programs. Nearly half (47%) of students who dropped out did so before completing one online course.
Allen and Seaman (2007) suggested that part of the reason for online student attrition is that faculty, staff, and the strategic alignment of the college is not vested in the value and legitimacy of online learning. Allen and Seaman (2007) also suggested that colleges that have a vested interest in online education’s value and legitimacy have higher faculty engagement and less student attrition. Institutions that see online education as a “long-term strategy” are successful in student degree completion. Their study “Online Nation,” supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities, considered five questions important to the success of online education programs, including barriers to the adoption of online education and why institutions provide online learning. Allen and Seaman’s study provided insight into the framework and strategic alignment of online education. However, while the study uncovered statistics on faculty and administrator engagement as relating to quality and graduation rate of students, Allen and Seaman (2007) failed to reveal how generational differences contributed to student retention or attrition.
This study proposes that by incorporating flexibility, content, and community features into the first-year Generation Y online classroom instructor perceptions of student engagement may improve. Incorporating teaching and learning strategies and pedagogy that aim to listen to students needs, facilitate learning and discussion, and provide resources and access to tutoring and library services, will allow students to be more effective online learners. Access to online education alone is not enough to encourage student completion of academic degrees.
Allen, E. and Seaman, J. (2007). Online nation: Five years of growth in online
learning. Retrieved from Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) web site.
Education Dynamics. Many Online Learners Never Seek Help before Dropping Out.
November 2008 Survey, California State University – Northridge.
Grasha, A., & Yangarber-Hicks, N. (2000). Integrating Teaching Styles and Learning
Styles with Instructional Technology.College Teaching, 48(1), 2-10. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Howe, N., and Strauss, W. Millennials Rising: The Next Generation. New York:
Vintage Books, 2000.
Quitadamo, I., & Brown, A. (2001). Effective Teaching Styles and Instructional
Design for Online Learning Environments. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Wilson, M. (2004). Teaching, Learning, and Millennial Students. New Directions for
Student Services, (106), 59-71. Retrieved from ERIC database
Loren Kleinman is the assistant director of Academic Support Centers-NJ at Berkeley College.