Online enrollment in higher education continues to grow, especially at the undergraduate level (Gravel, 2012). Enrollment of students taking at least one online course has increased from 1.6 million in 2002 to 7.1 million in 2012, now representing 33.5 percent of higher education students (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Students enrolled in degree-programs offered entirely online are estimated to be 3.4 million in 2014, representing 17-percent of all higher education students (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015). Online enrollment is expected to continue to rise (Allen & Seaman, 2014), with projections of close to 25 percent of all higher education students taking fully online programs in 2020 (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015).
Although student enrollment continues to increase in online courses, student retention in online programs are lower than traditional, on-campus programs (Herbert, 2006; Varney 2009) with some scholars (Ali & Leeds, 2009;Varney, 2009) reporting a 15- to 20- percent difference among online and traditional learners. The number of higher education institutions reporting that online education is an important component of their long-term planning continues to increase (Allen & Seaman, 2010), indicating that a successful online program is of the upmost importance.
Dr. Al Infande offers a dozen strategies for improving online student retention. Below are five tips taken from Infande and expanded upon specifically for instructors to improve student retention in their online courses.
Online courses should facilitate the same type of instruction that students would see if they were face-to-face in a classroom with a strong instructor presence and timely feedback. Additionally, by creating a welcoming environment and making students feel like they play an integral role in the course, students will feel included in this virtual environment and be more willing to put in the effort to be successful.
Ali, R., & Leeds, E. M. (2009). The impact of face-to-face orientation on online retention: A pilot study. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(4).
Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED529952.pdf
Clinefelter, D. L. & Aslanian, C. B., (2015). Online college students 2015: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.
Gravel, C. A. (2012). Student-advisor interaction in undergraduate online degree programs: A factor in student retention. NACADA Journal, 32(2), 56-67.
Herbert, M. (2006). Staying the course: A study in online student satisfaction and retention. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter94/herbert94.htm
Varney, J. (2009). Strategies for success in distance advising. Retrieved July 10, 2015 from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Distance-advising-strategies.aspx