How to improve student engagement and retention in your online course

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The average completion rate for an online course is only 13% or less. This statistic refers specifically to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on platforms such as Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera etc.

Students drop out of online courses for many different reasons, from lack of accountability to overwhelm and boredom. To beat the odds, you need to strategically craft your program so that your students enjoy their learning experience and feel motivated to finish the course until completion.

The success of your online course relies on more than just the content. How you organize the content, how you present it, and the support your students have all play a role in engagement and student retention.

Your online course has the potential to provide a ton of value to your target audience if structured and executed effectively. Use these strategies to create an online program that your students love!

Make it easy to digest

Hands up if you enjoyed sitting through long lectures in school…. No one? Attention spans are waning, and learners, both in-person and online, will start to lose interest after about ten to fifteen minutes of consuming information.

After this point, students will struggle to digest and retain the information that you are presenting.

Instead of including long lectures, presentations, or reading materials, break up your modules into chunks of ten minutes or less. After each section of content, give your students a quick refresher about what they’ve just learned. Choose an interactive element like a mini-quiz, or include a roundup of all the most valuable points from the lesson. This approach will help your students to better retain the information and remain highly engaged. 

The length of your modules isn’t the only thing that will help your students digest your course content. Equally as important is the format.

Use a variety of formats

A page of plain text is not very interesting to look at, regardless of what your course topic is. If your course is made up entirely of written text, your students won’t stick around long enough to read it. The same applies to solely video classes (meaning just you talking to the camera), as students will find it harder to retain information. 

Students will maintain interest and find it easier to digest your course if you present the content in various formats.

1. Text

The areas where you’re using text should include bold, italics, bullet points and subheadings to break up the blocks and make them visually attractive. It will allow your students’ eyes to flow across the content without feeling overwhelmed by the volume of text.

2. Visual

Make sure to include visual components to support your written content, such as infographics, graphs, checklists, images, memes, gifs, etc. Including these visual aspects will make it much easier for your students to comprehend and understand the content that you are presenting. Plus, it plays into short attention spans by enabling students to process the information within seconds rather than having to read through text.

3. Audio

To hit the engagement trifecta, incorporate audio components into your online course. Including your voice will help to personalize your content and enable your students to form a connection with you, even when your lessons are pre-recorded.

Having audio to accompany your online training materials will enable students to understand your course materials better. Your audio could be a voice over for a presentation, or even better, a video of yourself breaking down your slides further.

Make sure that your audio is high-quality. There should be no background noise, and your voice should be clear and easy to understand. Not only is lousy audio unprofessional, but it can be frustrating for your students if they cannot understand what you are saying. Bad audio will end up detracting from the learning experience and decrease retention

Create a community

Students that feel connected to their teacher and their classmates have higher motivation to engage with and complete your course. By creating a community for your students, you give them a place to share insights and hold each other accountable for working through the lessons.

For people taking online courses, isolation can become one of the most significant barriers to engagement. With no group projects or classmate interaction, learners can lose motivation and get bored.

Online courses can be a great source of passive income, and many course creators will publish courses and leave them to run themselves. But that’s one reason there is such a low percentage of students who finish the course to completion. That’s not to say that you have to run an online student forum 24/7, but just that it’s worth creating somewhere that both yourself and students can interact.

One great tool that will benefit both your online course and your other business ventures is social media. Creating a group on Facebook or encouraging students to follow you on Instagram will allow them to engage with you and other students about a topic they are interested in (since they are taking your course in the first place). On top of that, your eLearning students will then become a part of your social media community, which could lead to other opportunities down the road.

Be available for questions

If a student has a question and cannot get a response, you can almost guarantee they won’t complete your course. As your program gains traction and begins to see more enrolments, it isn’t realistic to assume you can personally engage with your students at all hours of the day. But you have to set aside availability to answer questions and check in on them to make sure they are doing ok.

Manage student expectations by defining set “office hours” where you will be reachable throughout the day so they know when they can expect a response from you. If you see that a student isn’t completing modules or hasn’t logged on in a while, reach out to see if you can help them somehow. Being proactive can hugely increase your student retention.

Using a hosting platform that has a built in chat feature, like MycoLearn, will enable you to easily communicate with your students without having to leave the platform. 

Improving student engagement and retention in your online course

By implementing these strategies when creating and hosting your online course, you can drastically boost the likelihood of your students engaging with and completing your course.

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