One of the great problems in online education is the low completion rates for classes and subsequently programs. To be sure this is certainly partially the result of overeager recruiters and administrators who are in it for the buck or the developers and teachers of online classes who have not made them interesting enough to hold users’ attention in both the short and long terms. We should certainly take steps to police the recruiters and administrators as well as develop best practices for online courses to make them better. The third leg of the stool however is the student him or her self.  The high dropout rate is not the result of some moral failing from the student, but rather the failure of motivation and time devoted to online education. Sometimes this is the most rational choice given the other demands on a students time.  The reward, for example the increased job options versus expenditure calculation, both in time and money, does not persuade students to continue or even possibly to start. The difficulty or ease of the course may not match the commitment of the student.

The question arises how much pressure should there be on the educators to lower the barriers to students and how much should it be the students who have to raise themselves above the barriers? When I was in the classroom I recognized but always resented the fact that being an entertainer and keeping the material interesting to students was one of my jobs as a teacher.  Sometmes some students didn’t realize the importance of the information quite apart from the method of presenting it.  To make them realize was of course part of my job.  In any teaching you have to show students that it will be worth their while to put in the effort to learn something. Many times however while it was apparent to me that this stuff was important students might find it less so. With online learning we still have this responsibility but need to be more explicit about it and also present material in a way that keeps the student’s attention despite a greater number of distractions than even the classroom allows. Educators have a responsibility to make their material as attention grabbing, interesting, clear and pointed towards the end goals as possible.

Students for their part need to act too:

Allow enough time to complete online classes.  I have a friend who says that the real time to complete something is what you have allowed times pi (3.14).  That is to say that things usually take much longer than one plans and online education is no exception. Online students usually have many other things going on in their lives and if they are not careful online education will be one of the things squeezed out.

Online education takes away some of your time doing other things.  When we first entered childbirth class many, many, many years ago, they had us do an exercise.  We wrote down all the things we spent time doing in a day before the birth of the baby.  After we had completed the list they asked us to consider which of those things we could do less of in order to care for the baby.  I would suggest you do the same before choosing to pursue online education. You never find time to get things done; you make time. What things will you have to give up or cut back on to pursue online education?

Meet deadlines.  Most things in life have deadlines, some hard and fast, some soft.  In a course however once you fall behind it becomes increasingly difficult to do. Meeting deadlines is one of the best and most useful skills one learns in school.  If in the world outside school you become someone who can be depended upon to meet deadlines you will go far.

Always try your best.  There will be many times when you feel you can’t do something, spare the time for something, are tempted by shortcuts or are just too tired.  You need to fight through those times to do the best you can do within the time you have to do it.

Keep your eye on the prize. At times the minutia of a course may seem a long way from the prize you are seeking.  Just like the “wax on, wax off” scene in the original Karate Kid, tasks that seem to have no connection to the final goal may indeed be training you in ways that are not apparent. Persevere through the times that seem the most distant from your ultimate goals and you may find that those goals are closer than you think.

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