According to a study, it was found that the drop-out rate was higher in online classes than in traditional classes. Interestingly, there was no big difference between hybrid classes and traditional classes.
Why is that? All the comments of readers on an Inside Higher Ed article citing the study provide many insightful ideas and reasons for that.
First, students in online classes tend to have more burdens on their shoulders. They face time pressure by work and family obligations. Many single mothers, for example, begin writing papers when everything else is done and after every other work and family needs have been met. They can't invest time enough to study and can't take advantage of available university supports.
Second, the higher drop-out rate in online classes may result from poor instructions and course designs. Some instructors just throw a bunch of powerpoint slides and reading materials online, and give students assignments that students submit electronically. And they consider it online courses.
Third, more self-discipline is required for online courses. However good tools are used, online courses are not face-to-face classes. Students have to plan their learning hours and study schedule on their own. A reader (who seemed to be an online course instructor) said that it was students on 30's (parents with jobs) that showed the highest level of learning outcome. That is because they are usually self-disciplined and know the value of their education. The problematic students were the traditional freshmen who had no idea how to manage their time and had little self-discipline.
So then, what should we do to reduce the dropout rate? Three things were mainly suggested in the article.
First, faculty training. Faculty teaching online courses should take pedagogy training for online education. In order to engage students and foster interactions between the instructor and students, different approaches are needed including utilizing various instructional technologies.
(If you want to learn more about U of M resources and services for online instructors including Quality Matters, click here. And there is a podcast named as "Faculty Development for Online Teaching" on U of M iTunes U podcast)
Second, assessing student readiness. Universities should invest in a readiness assessment that provides the student with great insight as to his/her strengths and weakness along with providing support resources. In addition, students should be required to take a technical assessment prior to enrolling to find out if they have the skills they need to successfully navigate an online class.
(Visit the online learning assessment page in U of M digital campus web site)
Third, much more support. Many agreed that online courses should not be seen as a cash cow. In order to create high quality online classes, it takes as much investment as traditional classes. Once online quality is established within an institution, it will then be possible to come up with ways to save some money with online, but not before.