How to improve completion rates for online courses?

Aug 21, 2017Blog, e-learning, instructional design tips0 comments

Despite the steady 10% growth in enrollment rates of online courses every year, there is still a rising concern of surprisingly low completion rates. According to an analysis of 61 courses from Coursera, the average completion rate was just over 6%. The rates do not look promising either even with courses specially designed to be short and auto-graded, which is just under 30%.

There are various reasons leading to this statistics of low completion rates. Some of them indeed seem to be beyond the control of instructors. Let’s face the fact that one of the most reason contributing to this high dropout rates is student’s own intention. Some apply to pursue further achievement and some are just curious. However, through technology, we could change that.


Let’s boost the completion rates

Engage students with multimedia

In our article about why students drop out courses with failed expectation, there is one main reason: motivation. Students don’t motivate themselves alone. There are various burdens affecting their learning experiences like distractions or isolated feeling when studying on their own. However, many online courses still work like this: they give learners a bunch of documents then expect them to read all through and complete the test. Seriously, who would want to read a forever long document? Please don’t motivate students to leave by boring materials.

Learning is supposed to be fun.

This applies even to business and science subjects. Optimizing multi-media in your lessons like a chart, a picture, an audio or video could make big difference. Such small change could do the trick, especially video. The key here is to give students an informative break. This releases their stress and revises their motivation to continue the lesson. Moreover, visualizing your lesson with video makes students understand much better. This saves your time explaining for hours, and their time also. Time is vital. The new generation of students has shorter memory span nowadays. This is why many courses are divided into small sections with 5-10 minute long videos.


Virtual community

Many educational organizations nowadays rely fully on technology. However, there is one thing technology could hardly replace, which is communication. A bad designed online course could make students feel so isolated that they drop out.

One quick way to terminate isolation is just to create a small smart chat room for learners. It could be as complicated as a live chat room, or as simple as an open forum or comment section. This community allows students to share their ideas and questions related to the lessons. Many learning system platforms optimize communication by connecting students account with their social media such as Facebook or Google+. It is such a wise move to connect students with each other and their lecturers. When they feel as a part of the community, they will be more engaged to the courses.

Moreover, the educators need to be involved more in the students’ activities than just appearing on the screen. One big failure of online learning, especially MOOCs, is that they leave the students alone as soon as they upload their lessons. E-learning is about enhancing student’s experiences, not abandoning them to technology. Leaving email for clarification, joining that chat room or answering comments related to the subjects, lecturers should be part of the community also. The closer the connection between tutors and students get, the more likely the students will complete the course.



Giving students some attention could increase their motivation to complete the course. There is always one or two students in class that are struggling with the lessons. The key here is to identify their struggles and provide support as soon as possible. The students are not likely to ask lecturers, we need to find them. This can be done by checking the class discussion and identify the one that seems to be in difficulties. Then there are various ways to support the students and make them feel more belonged to the courses:

  • Sending them an email saying that you understand their struggles and suggesting them ask any question if needed. However, the best is to call students for support. This enhances the student and tutor connection and makes them feel more responsible for completing the courses. They don’t want to make their friendly and supportive tutor down, do they?
  • Offering extra materials for their own needs. This could be an animated explainer video or a document.
  • Creating study group. It is a great idea to divide students into group of 5-7. Students can support each other and even compete against other groups. The support, as well as the competition, will boost their motivation to complete the final exam. Not to mention that groups could bring great learning materials for course improvement.



E-learning provides students various convenience in time and cost proficiency. However, the low completion rates prove that students need more than just convenient learning. Enrich teaching materials, creating a community for them to share and discuss their ideas and keeping track of individual needs are keys for the better online learning experiences.


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