Though both traditional and e-learning universities and programs are facing student retention issues, e-learning tends to struggle more with retention. There are many factors that contribute to retention issues. These include engagement, feeling of isolation, instructor presence and instructor feedback. In a survey conducted by Friedman, Deek and Elliot, it showed 62.9% of the students responding wanted an instructor that was more of an expert than a facilitator of the class. Having an instructor be an expert can mean that the instructor has experience in the course they are teaching. For example, I have been in photography courses that were instructed by someone with extensive experience in photography and an arts degree; graphic design courses taught by instructors who have both a degree and industry experience; accounting instructors who are CPAs. Online learning is self-directed learning, with the role of the instructor to serve as the facilitator, however, they should be able to have enough experience to aid students when they are experiencing problems, to be able to offer constructive advice to help the learner grow.
In a 2003 study, conducted by Mock, 42% of the students in the study either withdrew from the computer science class or failed to take the final exam. This rate was significantly higher than the 12% and 26% for the same class, taught by the same instructor in face-to-face format. The article does not specify information related to the course – just that the same instructor taught both the online and face-to-face course. It brought to mind an interview/conversation I had with Empire State College’s Director of Online Curriculum, Ellen Murphy. She pointed out that courses cannot be taught in the traditional face-to-face environment and then just converted to an online course without redesign. The article did not indicate that that was the case, it is just an assumption that I made. Murphy indicated that the course design needs to be adjusted to fit the online learning style. This needs to take in to account the amount of reading, assignments and projects that need to be done. It will differ from the face-to-face courses. Friedman, Deek and Elliot indicate this as well, based on Shaelson & Huang’s research (2003) where many universities lack faculty who are properly trained for creating and delivering online classes.
Frey, Faul and Yankelov (2003) cite elements for success in the online learning environment. They found online posting of grades, sufficiently detailed and accurate lecture notes, well-defined guidelines on how to finish assignments and consistent and constant contact with the instructor. The instructor should be accessible either by virtual office hours, email or phone. There should be timely feedback to the student. Learning styles are important to keep in mind. Though the online learning environment is more geared toward independent learners; individuals can motivate themselves to adjust their style in order to achieve their goals. Motivation is important, as is the instructor presence in the course.
The authors conclude that without critical skills of identifying, finding, understanding and using information, the student will be lost right from the beginning. I do agree with this finding, however, I also feel that necessary steps should be made to assist students and make presence known in the class. In traditional universities, early intervention steps are taken to keep students on track. If an instructor is not giving proper and timely feedback, this can be a disservice to learner’s education. It would be unfortunate to go halfway through a course, or to the end, without receiving feedback. How can a learner know where and how to improve without the feedback? Instructors can also make recommendations to students to seek additional assistance to help them be successful. For example, there are many webinars and presentations done to promote learner success. A recommendation to sit in on one of the seminars could help a student become a better researcher or become more engaged in online discussion.
Friedman, R., Deek, F., Elliot, N. Validation of E-Learning Courses in Computer Science and Humanities: A Matter of Context. In C. Spratt, & P. Lajbcygier (Eds.), E-Learning Technologies and Evidence-Based Assessment Approaches. Information Science Reference. (151 – 169)