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Why do so many online students quit?

Education

Why do so many online students quit?

The influx of online learning platforms (OLPs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has given anyone an array of options when it comes to learning new skills online. There’s a lesson for just about everyone on a dedicated course provider or simply on YouTube. Millions have taken these lessons and the push to bring a lot of offline course material online has never been greater.

That being said, around 7% of online students enrolled in MOOCs actually finish courses. That’s incredibly low. I’ve been trying to identify reasons why this may be the case and have come up with a few ideas that I’ve shared on a recent question over at Learn Egg – the question and answer site for education. It all stemmed from a question posed by Ben Wagner who is looking to better understand why online students quit and why online student course completion rates are so low:

learnegg-question-online

In an effort to answer this question, I attempted to offer up my opinions and anecdotal evidence. But I think it’s worth trying to get a better understanding from the rest of the education community. That’s you!

Why Online Students Quit

Head over to the Learn Egg question to offer your thoughts, but here are my reasons off the top of my head why online students quit and why MOOCs course completion rates are so low:

  1. Lack of accountability – If you have nothing riding on you successfully completing an online course and no one is checking up on you (like a parent, for example) then what’s the incentive or accountability factor?
  2. Time constraints – Getting to class on time is less of an issue if you’re going for online courses. But squeezing in a lesson here and there between obligations is tough. You can only devote so much time to a 3-hour video lesson on your lunch break.
  3. Little oversight – MOOC providers (and online colleges, of course) want you to complete the course. It’s not like they don’t want you to succeed. However, the ‘M’ part of MOOC stands for Massive and that means these providers have to figure out ways to work with a huge number of students that they’ll never meet in person. So, there’s very little oversight happening as a result of this.
  4. Minimal encouragement – How do you get a million people excited about a 1-hour video? Unless it’s a viral video, you’re going to be hard-pressed to get students excited to click and devote a chunk of their day to learning. And these are students who have already expressed interest in learning online!
  5. Vague goals – Some schools offer degrees, to be sure. Most MOOC providers offer something more akin to a digital badge or a nanodegree. Basically, something a course provider can offer to you that doesn’t require accreditation and therefore money. So goals are kept vague and rewards are intangible for most. The only real exceptions to this I can think of are things like learning a language, how to do something physically, or perform a task better. If you can chop an onion better after taking a course, you’ll be a better chef. But if you’re looking to learn about the War of 1812 and get bored and quit, you’re not going to be more knowledgeable.
  6. Distractions – After reading through this article, you may think that YouTube videos are the future of learning. Sorry, they’re really not. YouTube is designed to make you click and watch as many videos as possible. It’s not designed to have you watch the ENTIRE length of the videos, though. The site wants you to view as many ads as possible so those pre-roll video ads are shown to you, a sidebar ad is displayed, and then it’s in YouTube’s interest to get you to check out another video as soon as possible so it can get more pageviews and clicks. When it comes to MOOCs and distractions from courses at online schools, there are many more than just ‘other videos’ on YouTube. There’s your entire life banging at your door while you try and sit down to an online lesson. Good luck finishing one video without pausing or daydreaming!

Why Do You Think Online Students Fail?

Those are just a few of my personal thoughts on the future of online learning, the problems with MOOCs, and course completion rates. What are your thoughts? Share them down in the comments or on the original Learn Egg post sometime!

Jeff is an education and technology lover who has worked in far too many industries to count. Okay, like maybe 5 or 6. Jeff can indeed count that high but it's not recommended. Jeff also likes to write bios in the third-person.

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