/epale/nb/file/supported-online-learning-enhancing-student-experiencepngSupported Online Learning: Enhancing the Student Experience.png
The following article is the first in a series of three which will explore the issue of student retention in Higher Education and consider the approach taken by one online provider in the UK.
Isolation, engagement and retention
As an online provider, the Interactive Design Institute (IDI) is acutely aware of the problems associated with student retention. This is traditionally a major source of concern for distance learning institutions and, more recently, those involved in the delivery of early versions of the MOOC would no doubt agree.
Over the last three years, the company has undertaken a programme of initiatives intended to address issues such as student isolation, engagement and retention. The purpose of this article is to describe our aims, outline our actions and share the conclusions we have drawn as we approach the final stages of a three-year project.
Quantify the problem, create the solution
In May 2015, it was stated in Ed Tech that the National Student Clearinghouse had reported that of the “2.9 million first-time degree seekers who started in the 2009 cohort, just 53 percent completed a degree at any institution within six years”.
At a stroke, retention became one of the most visible and hotly debated issues in higher education worldwide. Many institutions were quick to seek solutions by integrating available technologies within failing strategies as opposed to developing robust retention strategies first, and then employing the IT systems that would facilitate them.
Developing a retention strategy based on technologies comprises not just those involved in enrolment working with internal teams or external providers to facilitate the student experience, but with all staff who engage with the learner across the entire student experience.
From the point of enrolment, the learner must experience a caring and inclusive culture designed to support them in all aspects of their academic and pastoral activities. This culture should include a diagnostic element; enabling problems to be identified quickly and discreetly and appropriate remedial action taken as required. Opportunities for students to communicate with their peers in a variety of academic and recreational settings should be provided with emphasis placed on the creation of community, safety and responsibility.
New and emerging technologies are providing innovative tools that are increasingly delivering, previously unimagined, educational experiences for the contemporary student. However, while these technologies offer unprecedented levels of access, more flexibility of modes of study, greater functionality and faster processes, they do not necessarily enable learning or facilitate peer-to-peer relationships. Learning involves much more than the memorising and regurgitation of information, and meaningful interaction requires more than the setting up of online forums.
If we use IT systems with the aim of encouraging our students to engage with the learning process and remain engaged up to and including the point at which they graduate, we must take care to provide a vehicle that also allows them to absorb information, deduce, evaluate and articulate theories, evaluate and apply concepts, and acquire the cognitive processes that support these skills.
Within education in general, and the process of teaching and learning specifically, technology alone will not and cannot provide solutions to problems such as improving access, supporting delivery, enabling learning and improving student retention.
Michael Stewart has extensive experience in the writing, directing and delivery of education programmes across a range of media. More recently as a member of the board and management team of the Interactive Design Institute, Michael has fulfilled a wide variety of functions including the development of pedagogy for online delivery.