Retention of adult online learners is one of the most challenging and fragile issues for higher education programs. After all, your university invests many hours building rapport with students as you help them through the application process, assists with individual course enrollments, and serves as a counselor for situations that may arise. So, now what should you do to ensure that your online adult learners remain engaged and continue to enroll in the necessary courses to complete their academic programs?
The answer is complex and varies by individual needs to the student, the culture of the university, and the duration of the program. However, university leaders can use strategic retention plans to maintain/increase enrollment numbers — and thus monetary gain — and more importantly, ensure student and program.
Let’s face it. Adult learners are wearing numerous hats as they complete their graduate course work. Many are already working full-time jobs, have families, possible economic limitations, and additional learning challenges that make the online platform a difficult one to incorporate into their daily routines. Below are some strategies that can easily be incorporated into a current retention plan to ensure the success of the student and the University program for years to come.
Strategy 1: Interactive learning management system. What learning management system are your students using to submit work, tests, etc for the program? It is important that the platform allows students to engage with their peers in a timely manner. Allowing those in a cohort to communicate via a chat feature of an online platform provides this connection and also allows the non-traditional student to ask questions with other students and with faculty.
Strategy 2: Maintained Relationships. Throughout the recruitment process, the non-traditional student gains access to an advisor that helps them work towards the goal of program acceptance. Why stop now? The focus is on student graduation and program success, but the need for connection has never left. Academic advisors should be doing periodic check-ins via phone, email, and text — tasks that should be automated wherever possible, namely through CRMs like Salesforce which now offer Chatbot and A.I. resources. This allows the student to feel like someone has concern for their well-being and holds them accountable for their efforts.
Strategy 3: Practical Curriculum. Make sure that your curriculum is up to date and relevant to the career field of your students. Many of us can reflect back to long division and our frustration as children wondering when it would be usable. The same emotion arises in adult learners who want a curriculum that is applicable to their desired professional aspirations.