New research found that first-year online students have incorrect notions about how the educational process will work. That leads to unrealistic study choices and could be a major factor in high dropout rates for online learning.
The report, Stories from Students in Their First Semester of Distance Learning, was compiled from video diaries of 20 first-time full-time online students by the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. The study showed that factors such as family circumstances and employment directly influence the study habits and motivation of the students.
Researchers noted how students perceive the flexibility and the self-paced nature of online courses can lead some to ignore assignments viewed as nonessential and to disengage from the course. Those preconceived notions make it more important for institutions to provide support students during the enrollment period, according to a report in eCampus News.
The data indicated that a strong sense of belonging keeps students engaged in a course and that digital skills are important, especially for older students. The researchers also found a “high-risk” period near the end of the semester, when institutional support services can help keep students on track.
“Distance providers and prospective students alike need to work together to design what is achievable in a way that is not just a crude calculation of hours available, predicated on the ill-formed assumption that distance learning is a ‘lone wolf’ experience offering more flexibility than on-campus learning,” the authors of the report wrote. “Courses need to be designed to complement their busy lives and support services need to adequately help them survive beyond the first few weeks in an environment that is most likely starkly different from that of a campus learner.”