Can online learning increase college retention rates?

The short answer to the question in the title is yes. I could leave it at that, but let’s take a look at why college retention rates are declining and how exactly online learning can help.

Enrollment in post-secondary institutions is down. The National Center for Student Information Clearinghouse Research recently reported that undergraduate enrollment alone saw a 9.4% decline from spring 2020 to spring 2021, resulting in nearly 1.4 million fewer undergraduate students than before the pandemic. This decline is largely due to COVID-19, but not solely. The debate over whether the cost of a college education is worth a student’s time, money, and energy – especially with the current rate of inflation – is a measurable factor.

We know that individuals can earn more in their lifetime with a bachelor’s degree than with a high school diploma. Other opportunities such as flexibility and career choice are opening up more to graduates, even in today’s job market. But whether these long-term income gains are worth the initial investment is a major sticking point. This is where online learning can save the day, but not just any online learning.

As higher education institutions strive to make degrees more affordable, flexible and adaptable, too many are stuck with archaic systems that don’t cater to students at all, let alone online students. . They’re clunky, difficult to use, and fail to create an engaging environment. Colleges and universities need to focus on student-centric learning and engagement initiatives, combined with the right technology to create an interactive online learning experience that not only retains but attracts students.


Keeping students at the center of the learning process is essential to delivering a successful online experience. Professors and educators need to know how to use technology to teach online, but putting an in-person lesson on a screen isn’t an effective adaptation — at least not one that students will be drawn to. Regardless of the technology faculty are working with, student-centered courses should be designed to consider how students will interact with course content, how they will interact with other students, and how they will interact with their instructor. E-learning magazine, Casper College, the first junior college established in Wyoming, has implemented a mobile app to focus on providing a comprehensive digital learning experience to its global student population. A mobile app enabled their diverse student body to have the same learning experience, whether via phone, tablet or computer. The app allows students to access learning materials, contact instructors, submit assignments, and perform any other tasks they might have done on the college website. According to eLearn magazine, student response has been positive, and the college has seen an increase in student and faculty participation.


Every educator has encountered resistant learners – those who refuse to answer questions or participate in group activities. Put a screen between that educator and the learner and there’s a whole new barrier to cross. Building engagement remains one of the most unique and stubborn challenges in online learning, but it is doable.

When designing digital content, Educators should first consider that students are more likely to face distractions online than in a classroom. Social media, childcare, and busy households are just a few examples of what grabs students’ attention. With practical and accessible content, institutions can provide a better and more engaging learning experience for online learners juggling these challenges.

Educators who create practical and accessible content must also ensure that it is not outdated. As new technologies and teaching approaches develop, learners change with them. To stay relevant, educators need to regularly update content and delivery. Tracking a learner’s progress throughout the course can also help determine levels of engagement and what content needs updating.

Not only is it important to choose how educators engage with students – and students with educators – but when to engage must also be chosen intentionally. From forums and private chats to email consultations and virtual office hours, each student will have a different preference, but how and when educators are available to connect with their students will make a difference in overall student success. ‘A class.

Finally, data is the diplomat. Digital learning environments rely on data to gather information about student efforts and behaviors. Once collected, this data can help determine which elements of the course need adjustment or are successful in building engagement and retention. Educators must commit to diving into data and analytics in their course.


What would we do without smartphones, calendar reminders and emails? Today’s students expect to learn with high-level technology integration, and colleges and universities need to understand how vital it is for students to have a seamless transition between in-person, on-site computer and mobile. Educators must create a learning environment that is supported and embraced by institutions, faculty, and students.

Don’t get new technology for fun. Instead, think about how end users will interact with it and what kinds of features are needed to achieve corporate goals. Determine if your current learning management system (LMS) can integrate different collaborative solutions. If possible, consider video conferencing solutions created explicitly for online learning and other tools such as live chats, forums, and messaging to enable instructor-student and peer-to-peer communication. If not, what should you include? What is the biggest sticking point with students and how can your technology address it?

Phill Miller is Managing Director of Open SGA and has nearly 20 years of experience in education technology.