Practices for Improving Student Retention

Kevin Shanley (Utah State University, US)
Session Information
November 10, 2011 - 3:50pm
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives; Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Oceanic 4
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes

Research in the area of asynchronous online general education programs retention is synthesized into 10 best practices that can be applied to any institutional e-learning program. Application of these practices in designing term-based asynchronous online courses will lead to increased retention online education.

Extended Abstract

Student retention has been studied for decades with a variety of research and conclusions made on factors that influence student retention and success. However, literature of the existing retention models in higher education is largely focused on traditional campus-based learners. In recent years the emphasis of these studies has shifted focus to retention in online or e-learning programs. This is largely due to the growth in online learning over the past 10 years and the number of programs that have evolved. Early on, as these programs began, there were anecdotal references to higher dropout rates in e-learning programs than in traditional classrooms, however, this view has not been substantiated on a national level, nor have there been any recent studies comparing e-learning versus classroom retention rates. A literature review was conducted to synthesize the research from a variety of institutions on retention of students in online asynchronous programs and to identify the common themes that can be used by institutions worldwide seeking to improve courses within their e-learning programs. This analysis defined the most common factors associated with student retention in asynchronous online courses. Additionally institution administrators, instructors, course designers and other stakeholders can use the findings to support and improve the retention rates of their students in asynchronous online courses. Thirty-nine research articles were gathered based upon their focus of retention in asynchronous online programs in accredited community colleges and universities and their definitions of retention. A few of the studies take the institutional perspective of retaining students in complete degree programs, comparing the number of graduates versus the number of declared majors within the program. The more common approach to retention is the ability to keep a student enrolled in a specific class through to completion. The selection of reviewed articles included studies from institutions across the country and internationally to obtain a broad view of the common factors being used throughout the various programs. The analysis of the selected articles yielded ten common factors that have an impact on student retention enrolled in distance learning programs. Although these factors are presented individually, they do not function independently. Each factor is interrelated and works together to support the retention and success of enrolled students. These factors include: Support services, Early submission of work and frequent contact, Clearly stated student expectations, Student orientation, Relevancy and accuracy of course content and design, Faculty preparedness, Student ‘Locus of Control', Age factors, Student participation, and Social integration with peer-to-peer support. Subsequent sections detail each of the factors, highlighting connections between factors where appropriate. The factors mentioned above are common themes throughout retention studies of online asynchronous higher education term-based courses and are consistent across multiple institution types, sizes, programs and courses. These factors do not stand alone as single solutions to increasing student retention. Many of the interventions identified can be combined into efforts to provide support resources and educational communities for distance education students through increased communication between students, instructors and the institution. The identification of these factors defines the most common factors affecting student retention and success in asynchronous online programs. As more students enroll in asynchronous online programs, faculty and administrators must understand the factors relevant to providing quality courses and programs that support student retention and success. They need to design courses that include student support services (both technical and academic) and encourage frequent instructor-student contact with clear expectations on participation and course requirements. Students must be given opportunities to contribute to the course through social integration and peer-to-peer interactions. By implementing the common factors covered in this review, students will be more likely to remain enrolled and complete their courses successfully, and will contribute to a higher quality distance education program for the institution.

Lead Presenter

Kevin Shanley has been a program coordinator for Regional Campuses and Distance Education at Utah State University, for over 2 years. Previously he worked in the USU FACT Center as an Instructional Designer, where he helped faculty to use Blackboard and assisted them in designing effective instruction. He also worked with the FACT center to offer faculty technology workshops. He earned his MS in Instructional Technology from USU in December 2009. Prior to his work with FACT, Shanley was the Manager of Instructional Technology at Edmonds Community College in Washington State, coordinating their online program and Blackboard integration for 6 years. He has also worked as an Instructional Designer at California State University, Chico where he also graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in the field. His interest in online learning evolved as the Internet grew. His history in multi-media design and instructional design has given him a solid background in a wide range of technologies that can be applied to education.