November 5, 2019

Fostering Student Retention in Distance Learning — The Results of an Appeal to All the Members of the IT REP Network

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

This article is a translation of a text first published in the French edition of Profweb.

How to foster student retention in distance learning? I asked the question to the members of the Network of ICT Respondents (IT REP Network), a community of practice that brings together the pedagogical advisors responsible for the integration of ICT in the colleges of the province of Quebec. I am sharing with you the answers that I was given.

An appeal to all the members of the ITREP Network

The Cégep régional de Lanaudière, where I act as an ICT educational advisor for the continuing education, has launched 2 online programs that lead to an attestation of college studies (ACS) since April 2019. The programs are offered either as asynchronous online courses, or as synchronous distance courses. The college wants to foster student retention in those 2 programs (Specialisation in Advanced Programmation of Industrial Controllers, and Farm Business Management).

In order to find what actions to take to foster student retention in online courses, I did many online searches, but I was not entirely satisfied with the results. Therefore, I consulted the members of the ITREP Network.

I asked the members of the network, though an appeal to all ICT respondents, to give me their tips to promote success, motivation, and collaboration in distance learning and online courses.

Through emails, videos, or phone calls, many ICT respondents have generously offered their help. After having read and listened to everything and noted all the tips that were given to me, I am sharing with you a glimpse of my personal notes. (You can consult the integral version of my notes on the ITREP Network’s website.)

Two keys: management and support

There are 2 keys to encourage perseverance in online or hybrid courses:

  • the management of the students
  • personalised support

Key #1: The management of the students

  • From the beginning of the course, present all of the tools that will be used. Survey the students to make sure that the tools are installed and functional.
  • Do not tolerate “tourist” students. The students must take their success into their own hands and be made aware of that fact as soon as their register for the course.
  • Class management must be done with the same expectations as in a classroom.
  • Clearly express your expectations and your limits.
  • Establish a class contract with your students by giving them various indications with regards to:
    • Your rules about punctuality
    • The breaks (suggestion: take a break every 50 minutes)
    • The use of cellphones
    • The turning on and off of cameras and microphones
    • Attendance
    • Re-taking exams
    • Asynchronous watching
    • The schedule
    • Your availability
    • Etc.
  • Ask all of your students to turn on their cameras and microphones. (You confer the right to speak.)
  • Sensibilize the students to the importance of interacting with the group. Give yourself the right to call on students in order to optimize class participation.
  • Give some responsibilities to students, because you cannot see everything. For example, one student can be responsible for checking the chat, to announce to the class that a comment has been made, that a question has been asked, etc.
  • In a context of adult education and work-family-studies conciliation, we need to demonstrate flexibility. However, the students must understand that they will not pass the course only by re-listening to the recorded classes. That method does not allow to optimize the learning or motivation.
  • The watching of the recorded classes must be used mainly for review.
  • Silence is completely normal, even in an online course. Do not let yourselves be intimidated. It is important to make sure that the group understands properly, without going too fast.
  • Offer the student periods of availability where you will be connected in the interactive classroom to answer questions.
  • Every week, send a message to your students to mention your expectations. Also send, occasionally:
    • an encouraging phrase or thought
    • a message to offer them your help for the more difficult assignments
    • a question
    • etc.

Key #2: Personalised support

  • Give appointments to your students, individual meetings, at least once per semester, to take note of their progression.
  • Create socioaffective links in the classroom. Here are some tricks:
    • Encourage conversations between students to create a warm atmosphere
    • Create a mode of group communication for the hours outside of the course (for example: Facebook). This will allow the students to feel supported by a team.
    • Create team projects. At the Cégep régional de Lanaudière, we use the Via platform for online courses. There are 2 ways to create team projects in Via: making the teams ourselves or letting Via randomly build the teams. Create teams of 4 people maximum, or else managing remotely becomes difficult.
    • “Go around the table” at the beginning of the semester. Ask the students:
      • the region they are from
      • what company they work for (for continuing education)
      • what their motivation is for taking the class
      • what their expectations are for the class
      • etc.
    • Do not use too many different platforms to avoid confusing the students. Use the pedagogical tools already put at your disposal in your establishment.
    • Congratulate the students and reinforce any positive behaviour that may help the group.

    If you have additional tips and tricks to encourage the perseverance of distance learning students: please share them in the comments!

    Note from the editor:

    If you have a question related to the pedagogical integration of ICT in your courses, ask the IT REP of your college. He has access to the combined power of all the members of the ITREP Network to find the answer!

About the author

Jean Perron

He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in management and has been working as an educational advisor for continuing education in the collegial network since 2009. He is interested in adult education, as much by credit as non-credit courses. ICT educational advisor for the Cégep régional de Lanaudière, he has developed many online courses in management and accounting, and has also adapted 2 programs in the field of industrial electronics and of agriculture to offer them as hybrid courses.

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