Online Program Management

Online courses are very popular among students today, but attrition rates remain high. To prevent students dropping out of online courses, you need to find ways to keep them engaged throughout the course. Improving the quality of student experience has a positive effect on student retention. Here are some best practices that might help.

1. Use Data to Identify the Problem

The first step in solving a problem with high online student attrition is to identify which students are most likely to drop out. Data analytics can help you build a picture of the students that are most at risk of not completing their courses. Data can also show at which points during the course students are most likely to leave. Once you have this information, you can focus your attention on improving these problematic parts of the course, and target resources on the students least likely to complete the full learning program.

2. Intervene Early

Students rarely go from being fully engaged to dropping out of a course overnight. There is usually a gradual attrition process, during which a student might miss deadlines and gradually engage less and less on online discussion boards. Monitor the activities of students so you can intervene early when an individual’s engagement starts to drop. A simple email offering support to the struggling student, or linking them to resources that could help them to catch up, might help to bring them back to full engagement. At the University of Pittsburgh, a program that identified students at risk of dropping out and reached out to them improved retention rates from 26 percent to 88 percent among this group.

3. Create a Community

One of the benefits of attending school in person is the support students can get from their peers. Try to create a similar environment in the online learning environment. Provide discussion boards where students can ask questions about the material, discuss related ideas, and encourage each other through difficult parts of the course. Some online courses also use Facebook groups to help students feel connected to each other and help make the course an integral part of their daily lives.

4. Let Students Know What to Expect

When students sign up for an online course, they should know exactly what to expect in terms of workload. Sometimes, students drop out of online courses because the workload is much higher than they expected. If you make clear to students at the start of the course how many hours a week they can expect to dedicate to their studies, they will be better able to manage their time. This should help to bring down the overall attrition rate, as only students who know they can handle the requirements of the course will sign up.

5. Provide Technical Support

Problems with accessing course materials or completing assessments can cause students to fall behind in their online courses. This can in turn lead to a drop in student motivation and eventually lead to them dropping out. Let students know how they can contact the team managing the course or platform with technical questions, and be sure to respond quickly to all requests for support. If you want to improve your online retention rate, you need to make it so that no student ever has to drop out of an online course due to technological problems.


Improving online retention involves addressing several factors that can influence students’ desire to continue with or drop out of an online learning program. By providing as much support as possible, and setting clear expectations at the outset, you can help students to complete their studies and improve your program’s retention rate.