It’s easy to lose learners in an online course for a variety of reasons. However, I’ve found in my own experience that some common factors can be mitigated by good planning and learning design.
Feelings of isolation
In any form of distance learning, it is too easy to feel alone and disconnected from others on the same course. Morale slips and the feeling of purpose that drives a learner on can be eroded. Providing collaborative activities, good peer support networks and casual communication links between learners can help keep them on track.
Uncertainty or anxiety about what is expected of them
Whether a course is online or face-to-face, you still need to make sure learning objectives, expectations, requirements, etc, are clearly laid out at appropriate times throughout the course.
Dull learning design
Without the kinds of stimulation provided by group dynamics in a live atmosphere, learning content that isn’t inherently lively and interesting in an online course can be deadly dull. It is vital to be creative in the way that content is presented and the design of activities in which the learners engage.
Lack of communication with tutors
Regular feedback about progress is absolutely crucial in online courses. Tutors/facilitators need to be seen to be engaged in online spaces and responsive to individual queries. This need not be too demanding provided enough attention has been paid in the planning stage to setting out a range of support mechanisms.
Lack of attention to individual learning needs
Learning is ideally an iterative and cyclical process — not just a matter of handing out standardised content and waiting for the correct responses to come back. The most engaging online courses allow learners the space to take responsibility for their own learning and contribute to and shape the course for future learners. In addition, there are diagnostic and adaptive learning tools that can help direct learners to the areas where they need improvement.
Last but not least, learners can drop out due to big frustrations caused by basic technical problems. These might be caused by their own inadequate equipment or internet connection, an unreliable or overly complex learning management system or through lack of training and support. It is important when planning online learning to take into account the likely technical setup of the learners (which may be limited by regional or international situations) and do everything reasonable to help them take part.
Sometimes, despite all attempts to engage them, learners drop out due to personal, family or work problems that make it difficult to devote the time and attention to online learning. All we can do is try to help, show care and support and finally accept their decision.