Visit Modern Campus

Ensuring Retention Among Distance Learners

To really ensure that they are supporting and retaining distance students, higher education institutions need to go beyond technological services and provide academic support. Photo by Moyan Brenn.

People are busy – too busy to go to school – at least in person. This is primarily because they are adult students who are stifled by time spent in their careers or adult students who have family and cannot commit to full-time school in the way that traditional students do. Many schools understand this, on the profit and non-profit side of education, and have developed rigorous programs to accommodate the busy, adult student.

What do you need to go to school online today? Simple – computer access. Students can access computers in many places: at home from their own computer, at the library, within computer labs at school, or within internet cafes throughout the city.  The best way to ensure consistency is for a student to have their own home computer, equipped with all that is necessary to complete and pass online courses. However, some schools realize that this is not always feasible and have set up designated areas for students to perform online class work on computers within the school. But what if colleges could go a step further and provide online students with laptop computers to be paid for within their tuition?

There are some colleges that work with students to get laptops at discounted rates but what I am proposing is that schools work with vendors to provide laptops for online students that would be paid for through tuition fees. Rebuttals to this could be: “Computers provided by the school are great but what about internet access?” This would be a great rebuttal because having a computer doesn’t guarantee that there will be computer access. How would schools get around this obstacle to ensure retention?

One thing that they could consider is forming alliances with nationwide service providers such as cable companies or telephone companies who could offer discounted rates for ‘anywhere you go’ Internet access. This too could be charged as a student fee which online students could pay within their tuition. Is this feasible or would there be too much red tape involved? Only time will tell as new and innovative ideas are necessary to grow distance learning programs.

All the things I have mentioned above would satisfy the technical difficulties associated with retention but what if retention extended beyond the technical and instead involved the academic? For many difficult courses, some online courses have adapted “live” presentations.  These serve to allow students to interact with the instructor in real time, giving them the feel of traditional teacher-to-student interaction.  Some schools also offer online tutors who are accessible during certain hours online or by phone to assist students with academic difficulties. What happens when online retention extends beyond technical difficulties and academic struggles? Perhaps students are just not ready for the online world, which sometimes involves much more discipline than traditional coursework; thus students should be directed to complete classes in the evening or weekends in a traditional setting. For those students that are disciplined to handle the challenges of online learning, these methods could certainly encourage online retention.

Author Perspective: