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Strategies for Retention in Online Classes

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This post was written by Southeast TLC Coordinator Samm Erickson.

On Tuesday, November 25th, I attended the Faculty Learning Community (FLC) for online instructors at the SE TLC. Our primary focus was on student retention, and the group seemed to come up with several useful tips.

We started with these two articles as a primer on the topic:

What we can learn from unsuccessful online students

“A Dozen Strategies for Improving Online Student Retention”

Many of these ideas are pretty de rigueur for courses at PCC because they are embedded in QM, but there’s a major focus on instructor presence, particularly at the beginning of the term, and a major focus on creating courses that are meaningful for students.

One thing we talked about was the importance of the NS in online courses. We seemed to come to agreement that the best practice was to require work from students during the middle of the first week and to notify them – at the beginning of the term through PCC email, through Desire2Learn email at the beginning of the term, and in the Course Policies/Syllabus – that they will be dropped.

We also talked a lot about avoiding late adds into the course. While we don’t have any data to prove it, most of us felt like those students were less likely to successfully complete the course, and the later they are added into the course, the less likely they are to succeed.

Desire2Learn does have Intelligent Agents, which can be found under the “edit course” link. Instructors can use those intelligent agents to provide early notification to students, setting up the agents to notify students who have not logged in or participated in the class over a number of days. At our meeting, we were all still feeling out how these agents could be used, but Jim Johnstone (RC), Melany Budiman (SYL), Andre Temkin (SE), and Michael Moss (CA) can help if you’ve got questions. You can also get more information from PCC’s Tutorials and Technical Support page.

If you’ve got another strategy for keeping students active and successful in online courses, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This session was a really engaging way to spend our time, and I think all of us walked away with something for our classes. If you are interested in the Faculty Learning Community, the groups will continue to meet through the remainder of the year. Watch for emails from Greg Kaminski or get in touch with a TLC coordinator.

About Heather Mayer

Part-Time History Instructor and Coordinator of the Rock Creek Teaching Learning Center. more »


There are 4 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Greg Kaminski 2 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. The Faculty Learning Communities have offered an engaging opportunity for informal yet focused discussion. Upcoming Faculty Learning Community sessions will also be listed at

x by Andy Freed 2 years ago

Thanks Samm! It’s great to see a continuing conversation about strategies for improving retention in online courses. There is plenty of research on the negative relationship between late registration and retention both on-campus and online. There is enough evidence that the College moved the late add date forward by nearly a week a few years ago. Anecdotally, I frequently hear from advisors and online faculty that late adding students continue to have a lower completion and participation rate than those who start the first day.

Obviously there are a lot of potential issues that faculty can address (e.g. your list of 12 strategies is great), and we’re hoping to get new online students just a little more prepared with a mandatory “start guide” to help students make better decisions before they even register for your online class.

x by Liona Burnham 2 years ago

Since I teach entirely online, I frequently find myself thinking about the best ways to retain students since I cannot have those casual conversations before or after class. The list of twelve strategies is a good one. Thanks, Samm! It’s also encouraging to see that these strategies are ones that we already use, though the list gave me a couple of ideas.

I teach online for another school — Northern Virginia Community College — that just switched to requiring on-time registration for all students this fall. The school made that decision based on data about student success, and I know they will send out the results of this change, though it is too early to see the impact yet. We were worried about enrollment, but students seemed aware of the change.

I also like the idea of a virtual backpack to prepare students for online learning.

x by Kris Fink 2 years ago

I was sorry to miss this session but happy for the blog. Andy, your info on late adds definitely confirms my experience. It’s so interesting to see these sorts of trends. I recently had a colleague who is teaching online email me asking how often I felt guilty about the attrition rate in my online class. I responded that I feel guilty/troubled/concerned pretty much all the time at the same time I tell myself that online students often just seem not to make the time for the course–they seem inherently “at-risk” (not all, of course). All this to say, try as we might to retain our students, we have to be kind to ourselves as well and let go of what we simply can’t control (no matter how present we are in our online classes).

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