So, why do students drop online college classes twenty percent more than traditional college classes? Well, imagine putting someone in a car with a manual transmission and expect them to instantly learn on their own how to make the car go, and expect them to drive in traffic as well. This is an impossible situation and the end result is, well, dangerous. But the comparison between first time students taking online courses is not so different. A student enrolls into an online course, is confused by the way the course is presented and is unable keep pace with the demands of the course. When students think of taking an online course they visualize staying home in pajamas, drinking coffee, and leisurely accessing the course when it suits them. In fact, this is the idealistic image that many colleges promote to get students to enroll in online courses. Is it sending the wrong image? No, students are able to take online courses in this relaxed fashion. What is not mentioned is that there are demands for online courses that differ from the traditional classroom. If a student is unprepared for these demands, then the only resource they feel is available is to drop the course completely.
Let’s talk platform. There really are not infinite platforms that schools use to offer their online courses through. Blackboard is one that can certainly be described as ubiquitous. Those who have used Blackboard before are accustomed to navigating through it. Though some Professors have their own methods, course navigation is essentially the same. However, for those students who have never used Blackboard before, a simple glance at the amount of information, the seemingly endless links, and the spatial orientation of the site can seem daunting. Familiarizing one’s self with the platform prior to enrolling in a class would alleviate many of these concerns. Though many colleges offer online tutorials about taking online classes, many do not. In this case, the student should seek assistance online or by contacting the school before classes begin.
Students need to get in the mindset that an online class is every bit as rigorous as a traditional class. Not having to physical appear for a class is equalized by rigor in the online class. The student must read the syllabus, due dates, and assignments to get a picture in their mind of what this class will look like in the end, and synthesize a plan as to how to successfully arrive at that point. An online class is not the type of class where one can quietly do their work and remain hidden for the duration of the course. Online participation, while not only fostering a learning environment among students, is also a requirement for the class. Many Professors make upfront recommendations about how many hours per week a student should be active in the class. While most classes are asynchronous, and a student can log in at any time to submit work, or post thoughts, it is safer to assign a specific window each day to log in.
Online courses are not for the meek. A student must be prepared to enter into conversations, the crux of learning online. In very large classes, sometimes referred to as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), groups are formed and are required to complete a task as a group. An omnipresent Professor will be able to tell which students are working and which ones are lurking. Students need to be prepared to step up, and volunteer to accept part of the work for the group. Group process naturally develops a hierarchy in the group, but the student has the ability to choose his or her role in the group. Groups online tend to want to set a time for working together over the net; being prompt and prepared will serve to develop trust and a feeling of community within the group. Students who never develop the sense of community are in danger of falling behind, and dropping out.
Not being familiar with the course platform, underestimating the amount of work, and not becoming involved are three of the main reasons students drop online courses. The keys to success are both physical and mental preparedness. The student should know what platform to expect a class to be presented through and become familiar with navigating it. The student must also develop a constant routine of spending time online; keeping up with assignments and time spent logged into the system will help insure success in the class. Also, online courses are designed to have students work in groups to complete tasks. There are any number of reasons why the dropout rate for online classes is higher than traditional classes. But understanding these three principles, and preparing to master them, will go a long way to ensure that a student will be able to succeed, if not flourish, in the online classroom.