3 Reasons Behind Low Completion Rates of Online Courses

Aug 17, 2017 | Blog, e-learning | 0 comments

Completion rates for online courses become a major concern when 40-80% online learners just give up the courses with unsatisfied e-learning experiences. Despite this fact, the potential of technology in education is so great that there is a steady rise in number of online courses every year. Moreover, the emphasis of many organizations nowadays is to develop rapidly more. The question is whether quality could reach up to quantity and how to improve completion rates?

There is no denying that the application of technology has made education much more convenient. It is such an effective tool to enhance learning experiences and approach students with a more effective teaching method. Benefits of e-learning are early realized and well received, resulting in a growing number of MOOCs worldwide. However, why do the students drop out?


This article emphasizes on the reasons behind low completion rates from student’s perspectives. The most reasons attributing to the high attrition include motivation, technical issues and lack of support.


The new generation of students is often assumed to be tech savvies. However, there is a fact that students’ familiarity with social media or video games doesn’t mean that he has enough skill for e-learning. Technology proficiency is necessary for any learners to complete their assignments and optimize all the functions of online learning system. Low computer literacy skills affect students’ learning experiences so much that they easily drop out when they see no advantages but burdens in online courses.

Technical issues do not come from students computer-related skills only. It could be frustrating to learn in a low technological environment with troubles as slow Internet connection. Not everyone is equipped with high bandwidth. Take online college for example. Many students use the campus Wi-Fi and many don’t even have their own computers. All take advantage of the public equipment, which doesn’t always provide best Internet speed. The bandwidth problem alone gives bad impression to their e-learning experiences. It not only slows them down but also makes it harder to follow the virtual class.


E-learning has a much larger barrier to communication than traditional face-to-face learning. Online learners often have that fear of isolation. Yes. They are on their own with a lack of peers collaboration and limited support from instructors. Unless it’s a virtual classroom with live-session where teacher and students communicate with each other through a screen, most stuck with studying alone. There is much more interaction in traditional classes that we get used to for years. Simple and natural things like raising a hand if you have a question, going to your professor’s office for further clarification or joining study groups with peers are almost unavailable in online classes. Technology is supposed to bring people closer despite their geographic distance but has such specific limitation.

Nowadays, such connection is replicated by many tools allowing the students to discuss the lessons and ask the lecturers to clarify a problem. This solution enhances student’s learning experiences but doesn’t complete solve the problem. Online study needs to be more interactive. Students should not only communicate with each other but also build their own network and virtually join the community with realistic values.


Online courses are mostly designed for students to study at their own pace. This grants them total control of how, where and when they study. It is one of the most advantages of technology in education but has a deadly weakness in strong reliance on students’ attitude towards learning. Online course lacks accountability. No one checks on how students complete their tasks and there is no punishment for absence or slack-off during a lesson. The Internet has millions of distractions and social media is one of the most factors contributing to their lack of focus on online learning. Online learning may sound tempting at first when they could cut down costs on training and receive all the convenience of free time and distance learning, however, if one cannot control their time and management to the courses well, he is more likely to drop out.

Online courses should be designed to keep students’ focus also. Concentration, whether it is an online or face-to-face class, is key to student’s completion and success. Fortunately, attitude is not something beyond our control. We have that power to produce courses with more engaging value that overcomes the distractions. There are lots of tools to enhance engagement and give students better experiences than watching a long video of lecturer talking or reading full-of-text documents. A small change in lesson plan like adding animated learning videos could make big difference.

Don’t be afraid!

The application of technology in education sure brings lots of convenience in learning. However, the question is how could we make the best out of it. Have you ever questioned why something so potential but has such low results, 7% completion rates to be exact? However, have you ever questioned why something so failed but still grows day by day? It is promising and it is still improving, which broadens our route to brighter education future. Don’t be tricked by the number, we can improve it.

Free Infographic: Simple guide to improve online course retention and completion rate

We make an infographic version of essential guide on increasing retention and completion rate for you. Make sure to download it! 


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