11 Reasons Why Students Drop Out Of Online Courses


Have you ever wondered why so many students dropout of online courses? This article will explain the most common reasons. You will also learn what to do to avoid students from dropping out of your class.

Ten Reasons Why Students Dropout Of Online Courses. Nowadays, a lot of students dropout of online courses due to various reasons. The most common 11 reasons why students dropout online courses are:

  • Low Student Motivation
  • Poor Communication and Feedback
  • Technical Issues
  • Too Expensive
  • Poor Time Management by Students
  • Unrealistic Educator Expectations
  • Poorly Configured Learning Management System
  • Course Not As Expected
  • Poor Quality Course Material
  • Feeling Isolated
  • Live Session Scheduling

Now you know what the most common 11 reasons why students dropout of online courses are. Let’s take an in-depth look at every reason and find a way to avoid it!

Low Student Motivation

Many students don’t treat the online learning process with the same amount of engagement as a physical class. The student lacks interest when using an online LMS because there is no actual teacher in front of them.

The motivational aspect is an especially important when learning online.  This is shown by completion rates for courses online vs in the classroom. MOOC’s having a 6.8% completion rate with course on Udemy as quoted by Author Seth Godin in an interview with famous author Tim Ferris “Online courses have a 97 percent dropout rate”.  This was his understanding of the Skillshare platform and that Udemy had similar statistics. 

Assigning a tremendous workload will make your students feel discouraged. They will rapidly lose motivation to learn and may dropout of your course faster than you think. This combined with lack of teacher interaction with students adds to failure and dropout rates.

Therefore, the Learning Management System (LMS) should notify students of inactivity through automated processes to remind students to log in and complete work.  The LMS should also notify teachers of at-risk students so they can personally follow up with that student and discuss any issues they may be having.

One commonly used method to keep students’ motivation level up high is to reward them for their learning milestones. For example, you can add badges that show the progress they’ve achieved so far. This way, they will have a reason to keep working even, apart from the actual learning process.

Poor Communication And Feedback

When taking online classes, a major drawback is missing one of the most important actors of the educational process: the teacher. Many students feel like they are not actually learning if they are not taught by a physical teacher.  And teachers think putting courses online then allows them to take a hands-off approach to student learning.

A recent study found that 91% of students found it acceptable to respond to a teachers email in 24 hours and likewise for the teacher to take up to 24 hours to respond.  This means that online study can be drawn out in time frame and a simple exchange that in a physical classroom or in person that happened instantly could take a week to resolve.

My personal experience having taken many certified courses and other courses on Udemy is quite different.  Teachers can take a few days to respond or even a week.  They prioritise students in their physical classrooms and online student come in as second-class students.

The ability to teach large audiences online does not mitigate the need for you to pick up a phone or Skype or Zoom with a student or group of students that may be struggling with the course material.  There is nothing more frustrating then not understanding a topic and not being able to contact someone fairly quickly to resolve the issue.  Your learning is put on hold until this happens.

To fix this problem educational institutions and anyone teaching online need to have guaranteed Service Level Agreements (SLA) with their students.  Just a fancy way of saying how quickly will you respond to student requests.  And then hold educators accountable to them.  Also have alternate methods of contacting for help.  Teachers, Instructors and Lecturers go on holidays and have sick days.  What happens when this happens and how do students not fall through the gaps.

Technical Issues

I always thought back when I was a full time software developer that the next generation of kids at schools would do me out of a job.  How could they not with the readily accessible and multitude of training courses online for a small fee or for free.  The reality was just not so.

The same number of students interested in technical fields has not changed that much and most schools around the world don’t have industry experienced qualified IT teachers.  Most of them pick up the basics and teach half a dozen classes so will never be an expert.  This flows through to a generation that loves using technology but cares nothing for how it is created.

What does this mean when we talk about dropout rates in online learning?  It means you still can not assume knowledge of the student’s abilities to use word processing software, operating systems or any specialist packages you may need for your training.

The students may also encounter software incompatibility when taking online courses just with running the training with the wrong browser or browser add in. There is no guarantee with global student enrolments that students have hardware quick enough to run your training or reliable download speeds.

You may say, “But Glen doesn’t everyone have broadband now?”.  And the answer is a resounding no for most of the world, and there are billions of people that still connect to the internet through their mobile phones.  But if your audience is only in developed countries then you may be ok not caring about file size of your training material.

But isn’t that just in the developing world?  Partly yes but if you want to limit your course from reaching a billion people in India where University is taught in English, so most people speak better English then we do.  Then go ahead and don’t think of these things.

I was teaching online only last week with a Live Classroom and one student in New Zealand living remotely was still having issues with Internet Speeds.  So it still happens in countries with broadband networks.

The teacher should always inform the students about the software and hardware requirements prior to starting the course. Additionally, the teacher should provide means of technical support for the students that need help with the devices involved in the course.

One of the best ways to prevent students from dropping out of your online class is to prepare tutorials for the most frequently asked questions (FAQ). This way, you can answer way faster to their technical questions related to the technological solutions used during the course.

Technical support is way easier to get if you are using a well-known LMS to conduct your online classes. For example, notorious learning management systems (such as Moodle, Seesaw, etc.) provide 24/7 live support for technical issues. This way, your students can solve their technical issues by getting in touch with the LMS technical support team.

Too Expensive

Whether we are talking perceived value or real value you can not say your online courses provide the same value as the courses in the classroom.  For starters you don’t need to pay rent for a building and associated costs when teaching online.  This does not stop Universities from charging online students the same price as those that physically attend the institution.

Some online educators have wizened up to this and are gaining many more students because they provide their online students with a discount.  Universities in particular are also charging students to carry their research project costs due to Professors only teaching part time.

When you look at Udemy which is the largest online video tutorial website in the world, where you can literally pick up any course on discount for around $10 to $15 USD.  And then you compare it to the same level of training provided by most universities, or I would say worse in most cases.  And Udemy courses are run by industry professionals and not lifelong researchers.

This is a perfect example of how ridiculously overcharged some countries universities are when you are receiving the same level of education if not better on Udemy.  Depending on the country and whether the courses are government subsidised Universities can charge between $20,000 to $100,000+ per year.

So depending on whether you are a Vocational Education Provider, College, Private Training Organisation, University or just someone with skills to share.  You must seriously assess what value you are providing a student past the content that they can get from anywhere.

So how is this being addressed so that Students feel like they are getting better value for money?  The smart universities are mixing things up and providing better Recognition for Prior Learning for students to certify real world skills and vendor certifications.  This is something Universities has been notoriously bad at.

With people changing careers 5 to 7 times throughout their longer working lives, it only makes sense that educators innovate to handle life long learning.  No longer do you only get educated at the start of your career and never have to learn again until retirement.  Most people will retrain or educate throughout their lives.

Deakin University in Australia runs Professional Practice Masters courses for a fraction of the cost of traditional masters subjects which is a perfect example.  You finish a set amount of masters subjects, get credit for professional work and then do a capstone project at the end.

The Open University in the UK is another example of this as well where you can complete a subject at a time anytime you want online.  Once they have completed set amounts of subjects, they get the related qualification.

Some Universities in their Information Technology courses are including Vendor Certification like Cisco and Microsoft and happy to give credit for students that already have these qualifications.

A lot of coding bootcamps even have no upfront money requirements and take a small percentage of your wage only if the education they provide leads to an IT based career.  This shows a commitment to providing a useful real-world education.  The opposite of other academic institutions where they pump students through courses where there is no job outcome in that industry.  It does not stop them on counting the Arts student as employed after their course when they get a job at a coffee shop.

If you find some way to make your course fees less or more flexible for students, you will definitely decrease your dropout rate.

Poor Time Management By Students

As the course semesters progress if students don’t keep up to date with the training material and teachers or lecturers don’t ensure students do so then they will dropout or fail.  This means that the educator should provide the student with the tools to manage their time effectively.

Ways for Students to manage their time:

  • Create a Study Plan
  • Be Realistic With Timeframes
  • Start Assignments Early
  • Remove Distractions
  • Get Good Sleep
  • Work Early In The Day
  • Take Breaks
  • Exercise Between Tasks

Create a Study Plan

It is important the students not only attend classes but schedule themselves study and assignment preparation time.  It is also important to schedule in social time, so they get a study and life balance.

Be Realistic With Timeframes

It is important to push yourself but if you aren’t realistic with timeframes you will always be left short of time.

Start Assignments Early

Start assignments as soon as you can so that you have time to bounce them off your tutors or teachers for feedback before the final assignment submission.  It will also reduce your stress when you get assigned multiple assignments at once which always seems to happen.

Remove Distractions

If you find yourself constantly being distracted remove the things that are causing the distractions during your study time.  Move things out of your study area that cause distractions or go and study at a library if a hectic home environment is the distraction.

Get Good Sleep

If you don’t get the recommended 6 to 8 hours sleep a night you will not concentrate during your study sessions and therefore get distracted easier or take longer to complete tasks. 

Work Early In The Day

Working after you wake up and get a good breakfast is the best time of day when you are the most focussed.  Thinking clearly will also mean you will remember more and write better assignments.

Take Breaks

Taking a break between major tasks means your brain has time to process and refocus.  This will mean your next study session or task will be easier to complete.

Exercise Between Breaks

Releasing a few endorphins and getting rid of nervous energy has been proven to help with focus and concentration.  Getting out of the house for a walk is always a good idea.  And a added benefit of a healthy body means you will think clearer and live longer.

Unrealistic Educator Expectations

When converting their courses to teach online if they are not providing equal or more support for online students then they will have to change their expectations.  Whether this is in extended times for assignments or to study or to hire dedicated support staff.

Most educators think that if they put a course online, they can forget about it and students will enrol and they won’t have to support those students and the money comes rolling in.  That is just not true, and this is the cause of the death of traditional eLearning.  You can not just put a book online and expect students to succeed. 

eLearning has come a long way and a lot of multimedia has been included but student engagement is still an issue.  For simple subjects, topics and ideas yes students should be able to complete them by themselves.  But as subjects become intermediate to advanced you need to provide the appropriate support and tools for success.

Poor configured Learning Management System

Most educational institutions use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to act as the website interface to their students.  But not all of them are configured with usability in mind.  Can the student find what they need in the least amount of clicks?  Or are they searching through it to never find what they need.

The worst LMS on the market configured with these things in mind is much more valuable to the learning of the student then the best one on the market.  They are meant to make things simpler rather than complicating things for both Teachers and Students.

Changing your LMS can take a lot of time and training for staff and teachers so it is important to get it right the first time.  Every decision should be student centric and as a secondary priority how easy it is for the teachers to load their courses and least of all for administration staff.  While the teachers and admin staff are important stake holders the students are the customers and provide the revenue.

Course Not As Expected

Whether your course is in person or online a major reason for student dropouts is the course expectations and marketing of the course being different to the reality of the course.  Educational Institutions hype up courses to get students to enrol.  But at the same time they should be realistic with the amount and types of work outcomes.

Also the inability of educational institutions to vet students to see if they have the core underlying skills like Language, Literacy and Numeracy is extremely important.  If you market the course as hands on and you attract tactile learners and it is all mathematics and book work then you should expect large dropouts.

The best way to overcome this is to be honest with future students and have then sit simple tests to see if they have the pre-requisites for the course.

Poor Quality Course Material

There is nothing more disappointing then paying a lot of money for an education to get only mediocre course material.  As mentioned earlier in the course traditional eLearning has failed and students don’t want a book online with a few pictures and videos.  They want to be engaged!

Businesses are investing in teaching online with a growth rate of 8% per year but the traditional eLearning investment is declining.  If you are only providing material online without support of live training sessions with a realistic SLA with students you are doomed to fail.

You don’t need all the bells and whistles like cutting edge gamification and LMS features but students want to be able to contact you when they need it relatively instantly.  This can be built into your course material.  Simple things like a “This page is broken”, a “Please help me”,  or “Rate This Page” button on each page of content.

Taking this into consideration, the teachers must do their best to provide high-quality material to support the course. And for ideas on what content types you can use to do this look at the article below.

ARTICLE : The Ultimate Guide to eLearning Content Types

Feeling Isolated

It is easy in an online class to feel isolated.  There are many ways to deal with this but basically it comes back to creating an online community for your students.  This can take many forms and the article below will walk you through some of these social learning aspects.

ARTICLE: Engaging Students With Social Learning

Live Session Scheduling

Most of your learning online will be self-paced for the student but you will have regular live tutor sessions and meet ups.  This is so you can draw out of student any issue they may be having and to consolidate their online learning.

When you are doing this you need to ensure students can attend the sessions.  If most of your students are studying part time and you schedule the sessions during the day it is not likely they will be able to attend.  This will increase the drop out rate of your students as they get further behind and don’t feel values in the course.

The simple solution to this is to survey each group of students and not only record the live sessions but make yourself available for one on one Q&A through email or video chats.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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