Posted by: Alison Damast on September 10, 2010
Online classes have never been more popular at colleges and universities, but instructors continue to struggle to find ways to prevent students from dropping out. According to a new study from Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business in Kennesaw, Georgia, they shouldn’t bother trying.
Keeping students engaged in online classes is a growing concern for educators as the online education sector experiences rapid-fire growth. More than 4.6 million college students were taking at least one online class at the start of the 2008-09 academic year, according to the 2009 Sloan Survey of Online Learning. Yet the student dropout rates for online courses are 15 to 20 percent higher than those for traditional face-to-face classes, according to a 2007 study published in The Journal of Educators Online.
A group of six Coles professors noticed they too had the same problem when it came to online classes. For example, the online version of one popular business class, a prerequisite for entrance into Coles, had a spotty track record when it came to students completing the course. In the fall of 2008, only 55 percent of students managed to finish the class. In the spring of 2009, they decided to put seven well-known retention strategies to the test on two sections of the course.
The researchers did everything from making students sign an e-mail course contract to placing personal phone calls to make sure they were on top of their class material, according to the study, which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education in October. Students exposed to the strategies dropped out as frequently as those who were not, the authors said.
"We called them at home, sent them emails, quizzed them on the syllabus and
made other efforts to try to engage them," said Elke Leeds, an associate professor
of information systems at Coles and one of six study authors, in a press release issued by the school. "The students will say they appreciate these efforts, but these weren't a factor in making them stay in the course."
Further research is needed to find out what makes a student a successful online learner, the study said. But for now, before students sign up for an online class, they might want to reflect on whether they have the individual traits that might help them stick with the course, like good time management skills and motivation, Leeds said.
Readers, have you had trouble sticking with an online class before? Was there anything that your professor did that helped prevent you from dropping out?