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Exploring Issues and Solutions Involving Retention in Online Courses

Student looking at laptop.

Key takeaways from Author Papia Bawa’s research

Author Papia Bawa (Purdue U) explores some of the underlying issues students face when taking their first online class, as well as ways instructors and institutions can promote success in the online classroom.

Learners decide to complete some or all of their coursework based on a few circumstances, such as flexibility, personal life, virtual anonymity, and course offering. However, there are some factors instructors, institutions, and the learners themselves do not take into consideration when navigating the online environment. Learners experience barriers related to culture and technology that can lead to attrition, as well as motivational factors, such as having a sense of control, feeling competent, and feeling included (Bawa 2). Learners who apply face-to-face expectations to online environments are at risk for dropping out, too.

Similarly, instructors and institutions arrive to the online table with their own set of challenges. If an instructor is a “digital immigrant,” he or she may struggle keeping up or understanding the digital native community, i.e. the younger student population (Bawa 6). However, even if a learner is a digital native, he or she is not necessarily well-versed in educational technology. This is where the institution plays a critical role in making sure that its instructors are trained properly, and not assuming that a veteran face-to-face instructor understands, and can assist students with, navigating the online learning environment.

So, what are some potential solutions to improve student retention rates? Bawa suggests the following:

  1. Make student orientations mandatory.
    Introduce students to the demands of the online class. Some students might reject the idea that they need any training, “so instructors and institution should think about strategies that will enforce orientation, rather than make it obligatory” (Bawa 7).
  2. Use live interaction and transparency in Computer Mediated Communication.
    Incorporate opportunities for live discussions, request that everyone in the class have a photo visible next to their name, and clearly communicate how often and when you will respond to student e-mails and discussions.
  3. Create a class structure that is conducive to collaborative learning.
    Create more collaborative problem-solving opportunities, hold individuals accountable to the group, encourage commitment to a group and its goals, facilitate communication between group members, and provide stability (Bawa 7).
  4. Enhance faculty training and support.
    Bawa stressed the importance of providing re-training specifically for instructors who make the transition from face-to-face to online teaching. Furthermore, institutions should constantly seek ways to provide its instructors with opportunities to learn about best practices in online teaching and learning. One area Bawa specifically mentioned involved more training that highlights the connection between effective course design and faculty preparedness (Bawa 8).

There are quite a few key takeaways from Bawa’s research and suggestions. Again, refrain from making assumptions about a digital native’s tech savviness or about a seasoned f2f instructor’s skills level within an online environment. Further, instructors and institutions should keep in mind that there are multiple outside factors that influence a student’s decision to join or leave the online learning community. It is our responsibility to ensure we equip ourselves with the knowledge to identify these circumstances in order to improve our success rates.

Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: exploring issues and solutions- a literature review. SAGE Open, 1-11. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2158244015621777

CCCOnline Logo By Audra Pickett, Professional Development and Teaching Excellence Specialist at CCCOnline