Most Effective Ways to Cut Elearning Dropout Rates

As an educator, getting your students to adjust to online classes might be a bit difficult. Unlike face-to-face learning environments, online learning requires deliberate effort on the part of both the educator and the learners to remain engaged throughout the length of the course.

students on laptops

Today we’ll share with you the greatest reasons that lead students to drop out of an elearning class, and the one thing you can do to bring down dropout rates. At the end, we’ll give you free resources that you can share with your students.

Elearning Dropout Rates

If you ever looked into elearning attrition rates, you’ll come across several studies and with varying statistics: 25 – 50%, 40 – 80%, with numbers as high as 78% in the Open University in the UK, and as low as 15 – 40% in China. The statistics vary, but the consensus is clear: More students drop out from online classes than face-to-face classes. The most commonly quoted numbers for the difference in dropout rates claims that elearning dropout rates are 10-20% higher than their face-to-face counterparts.

When you go on to the next question: Why? There you’ll find quite a bit of literature. Here are the top six reasons repeatedly indicated as the reasons for high elearning dropout rates:

  1. Inappropriate course selection
  2. Unclear course objectives
  3. Insufficient engagement with instructors
  4. Insufficient support from instructors and/or the institute.
  5. Lack of dedicated time for online course
  6. Lack of motivation

You’re probably asking yourself why student satisfaction isn’t on the list. Interestingly one study found that student satisfaction with the course was not significantly different among students who dropped out and those who continued in the course.

The explanation for this mystery may lie in a study performed in Slovenia, where dropout rates are lower than face-to-face courses. There are lessons to be learned buried in here.

First off, they found that higher satisfaction with an online course was directly correlated to higher performance in the class, and like the previous study unrelated to dropout rates.

So what does contribute to the higher elearning retention rates among Slovenian students? The researchers attribute the high completion rates to three main factors:

  1. Necessity
    The students are enrolled because they need the courses to advance their career or increase their chances of getting hired. To them, the class is a necessity, not a luxury.
  2. Cost
    The online classes, or e-study as they’re called there, are expensive. They can’t afford to let the course money go to waste.
  3. Support
    The mentors, organizers, and counselors all provide support for students at different levels. Mentors are easy to reach, while the organizers and counselors will reach out to students who do not complete their weekly assignments.

We want to plug a little tool that can help. No, we’re not getting paid for it, but we just think it’s pretty nifty. Moodle, the leading LMS, has introduced a machine learning prediction model, as part of the Analytics tools, specifically designed to combat this problem. The model is aptly called “Students at risk of dropping out.” To learn more about this and other Moodle Analytics tools check out Moodle Analytics: Get More Out of Your Course and LMS.

6 reasons for elearning dropout rates

As we mentioned, there’s a lesson buried in there. Although, you can’t recreate the first two attributes in your own classes, the third may well be in your hands.

Which brings us to the most important question, what can you do about it as an educator? Quite a bit. More than you expect. There is one simple way you can solve or at least address each of the above problems. Low on time and effort, but high on impact. Our one piece of advice: Don’t skimp on the orientation. We’ll say it again and bolder.

Don’t Skimp on the Orientation.

A study aiming to determine the factors that lead to higher elearning retention rates found that “those students surveyed who successfully completed their online course had expectations consistent with their course experience.”

So, take the time at the start of the class to make sure your expectations and your students’ expectations are aligned. Sounds abstract? or Difficult? We’ll tell you exactly how and most of it is simply done during the orientation and with a well-developed syllabus.

So what can you do during the orientation to help your students? You need to make sure they’re in the right class, and that they know what is expected from them. And to make up for the lack of personal interaction, play more of an advisory role than simply that of an instructor. It will help you engage more with your students. Do those three things in your orientation and you will solve some issues and address others. Here’s the why and how.

1. Make sure students are in the right class.

Besides sounding somewhat obvious, it also sounds like the student’s responsibility. But there two simple ways you can help, and you’re probably doing them already. If you do them, you can check off the first two problems mentioned above.

Course Description
Provide your students with a clear and extensive description of what the class will (and will not) teach and the course objectives.

Course titles say little. Published descriptions are often contrite lists of topics that leave much to the imagination. People eager to learn, enter the class hoping it’s the one they’ve been searching for, only to discover too late that what they were hoping would be the focus of the class is only one lecture. Take time at the beginning to make sure students are signed up for the right class.


Many students drop out because they discover midway that the course is way over their heads. The beginning of any course is often easy with basic foundations being laid and requires very little previous knowledge. When the class takes off students realize there are basic skills or knowledge that they lack and don’t have time to compensate while taking the course. You can not overemphasize the basic skills they’ll need, so be sure to highlight and stress the essential prerequisites. If the prerequisites are of varying importance let them know which are essential and which they can pick up on the way or can be compensated.

2. Make sure students know what is expected of them.

There are a few things students need to know at the beginning of the course in order to succeed.

Assignment schedule with time estimates

Most elearning students are not full-time students. They have busy schedules, so give them a heads up. Provide a complete list of assignments per module or week depending on how your course is organized.

Just as important, give them an idea of the amount of time it will take to complete each assignment, especially if your assignments are not run of the mill problem-sets or essays.

Remember they are first-timers. Try to base your estimates on feedback from previous students. The time it takes you to complete the assignment is only a fraction of what they will need.

Grading system

Students need to know how they will be assessed. As with so much of planning a class, remember when you were a student. One of your first questions was probably “How will we be graded?”

Many dropouts leave classes because they’re not performing well. Provide clear grading scales, weights, and rubrics. Assignment scores and weights will let students know how important an assignment is and give the assignment due attention. Grading rubrics let students know what is expected of them.

Required materials

List books and tools at the beginning of the class, and when and to what extent they’ll need them. Don’t surprise them mid-way through the course that they need items that they may not be able to locate quickly or easily. This tip counts double for expensive items. Give them time to search for discounts or used options.

3. Try to play an advisory role.

If you already provide a thorough syllabus, you may be doing the above points. This final one though is a little vague but carries the potential to solve four of the six problems that lead to students dropping out of an online course.

How? When you start to play an advisory role several things happen:

  1. You begin to bridge the gap between you and your students.
  2. You begin to engage with your students.
  3. You open the doors to feedback that will help you improve your class.
  4. You empower them with skills for success in your class and beyond.

So what can you do during the orientation to play an advisory role you ask? Give them advice on how they can succeed in your class. Earnest advice, straight from the heart and the grade book.

Some advice holds true for just about any online course. Because we know you don’t have time to search and compile, we’ve created for you and your students, essential tips to help them get the most out of an e-learning class, stay focused, engaged, and ultimately succeed.

Feel free to copy and distribute these tips or the infographic.

6 tips to master elearning

1. Take Notes.

Most first time e-learners find themselves instinctively popping a bag of microwaveable popcorn, in preparation to watch elearning videos. Unfortunately, the videos are rarely captivating enough and soon the learner begins to doze off.

If this first timer student was fortunate enough to stay awake, by the end of the video, their head is either swarming with new info or somehow everything evaporates the moment the video ends.

Taking notes helps everyone focus, visualize, understand the concepts, and retain the material better.

Not to mention, hand-written information tends to last longer in our memories. There’s even research conducted by Princeton University and UCLA on it. If you still don’t know why, here are 3 Scientific Links Between Handwriting Your Notes ad Memory.

Note taking is actually more than just jotting down ideas. It’s about cataloging the information in a way that’s easy for you to understand and later get back to.

A good article to read to find the note-taking method that suits you best would be The Best Note-Taking Methods For college students & serious note-takers. For a quick, but thorough video watch our favorite video: How to Take Notes in Class: The 5 Best Methods – College Info Geek.

2. Don’t Hesitate To Ask Questions.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “He who hesitates to ask is ashamed of learning.”

You should keep in mind that there’s no shame in asking questions or not understanding something. That’s why the entire educational system exists in the first place, to help you learn. Why would you be taking a course in something you’re already good at after all?

Did you know that students who ask questions not only end up learning more but teachers also rate them very highly? Teachers would love to answer your questions.

3. Connect with Other Students.

Another way to hold yourself accountable and ensure you get some studying done is to enlist the help of a friend. If you and your friend start a class together, you’re more likely to get motivated to work hard. If you can’t find a friend to take the course with you, look up other people who are taking the class and try to build a “support group” together.

Each person has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to particular subjects or lessons. What might seem difficult to you, might be a piece of cake to someone else. And the reverse is true. Which is another reason why having a friend study with you could be of great help to you. You can help one another when things get too difficult. Besides, an air of healthy competition between the two of you may prove worthwhile in the long run.

4. Manage Your Time.

Online courses offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to time and place, and it’s the major benefit of elearning. The problem is, there’s one thing that can destroy your learning: time management. With no time management skills, you’ll lose chunks of time without noticing it.

The best thing to do is to create a schedule for your classes. Give yourself some leeway time to fully comprehend the lesson and set it up. Add some time for you to do your assignments in. With a well-designed schedule, you’ll be more likely to adhere to your timings and get things done.

Also, find ways to save time and become a more effective and efficient student. The solutions may lie in productivity tools and apps. Enlist the help of friends or hire a proofreader to review your writing before you submit.

5. Avoid Distractions.

When it comes to taking an online class, any distraction, minor though it may be, can prove disastrous. Sometimes a quick glance at Facebook or your phone can be tempting. But it can also be all it takes to lead to an unproductive day.

In order not to fall into that trap, turn off your computer’s notifications. Avoid the temptation of using your phone, by either turning it off or putting it on silent.

Try designating a quiet distraction-free studying spot. You need a spot where you can focus easily and distractions don’t affect you.

6. Give Yourself a Break.

Some people mistakenly believe that breaks aren’t needed when studying. That’s not true at all. We all have different abilities and stamina as well as mental capacities in terms of our concentration levels. When it comes to online learning, the focus becomes more demanding due to the constant staring at the screen.

While some people may need a break after two hours, others might need a break every twenty minutes or they won’t accomplish anything. So, it is recommended that no matter what, you give your brain a break for it to function better. However, you don’t want to take things too far and forget to get back to studying. Take short breaks to keep your concentration level intact, and feel refreshed.

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