Instructor Strategies to Improve Online Student Retention

Student retention is an ongoing challenge to online educators. While there is great variation in retention rates across programs and institutions, online retention rates tend to be significantly lower than those in the face-to-face environment. However, not all online educators struggle with student retention. Kari Frisch, a communications professor at Central Lakes College, has consistent retention rates of around 95 percent in her online courses, which include interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, mass communication, and online social networking. In an interview with Online Classroom, Frisch talked about the factors that she believes help her achieve such high retention rates.

Consistent, strategically timed deadlines. Frisch has two deadlines per week: Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. By having the deadline during regular work hours, students will be more likely to contact Frisch or support staff if they need help as they are working on their assignments. The assignments that are due on Wednesday tend to be smaller (and worth fewer points) so there is less of a time crunch.

Here’s a typical student comment on this approach to deadlines: “I liked the way deadlines were set up for the class. Having a deadline on Wednesday and Friday really encouraged me to work hard and to be engaged during the week. It works well because then people won’t wait until the very last day of the week to do class work.”

Week-by-week access. Frisch does not grant students access to the entire course at the beginning of the semester. Rather, she opens one unit per week to prevent students from working too far ahead of each other. “It also helps them from getting too overwhelmed by the cumulative amount of work given during the semester. Work is perceived as more manageable—more doable—when you’re only seeing what’s due one week at a time,” she says. Opening each unit at 3 p.m. on Fridays gives students a weekend at the beginning of the unit to get work done, “instead of at the end to procrastinate.”


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