Improving Completion Rates Of E-Learners

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Much like its distance learning predecessors, e-learning, unfortunately, suffers from a high drop-out rate. Despite many students starting out with the very best of intentions of completing a course, there is nonetheless a very high percentage of those who never make it to the end.

Indeed, according to Corporate University Exchange, drop-out rates for online learners stand at around 70%, compared to the average of 15% for more traditional classroom training. Why is this? Is it the case that social etiquette and peer pressure simply makes it harder for the individual to walk away from the classroom? Is it the fact that e-learning courses tend to be a lot cheaper (or often even free) than, say, a more traditional college or university education, and so students do not feel that credentials attained via online methods are equal in worth? Or is it a deeper issue surrounding some sort of motivational problem when it comes to self-study?

The answer, most likely, will of course be a combination of these things, plus a few more besides. But, whatever the reasons are that so many students do not go on to complete the courses that they start, the problem still needs to be addressed. So, let’s take a look at some things that you can do to motivate your participants.


Finding the right balance of motivation is key to get your learners through to the end of the course. E-learners can sometimes not put in the effort required to get through their course if they cannot see how it is worth their while to do so. Sure, when they signed up they most likely thought to themselves that it would be a good idea to try and attain the knowledge that was advertised in the course description. However, as they progress, they may well find that the subject isn’t quite as exciting as they had thought, and the thought of slugging out over the next few weeks is just too much like a chore to bother with – after all, e-learners do have the luxury of simply being able to walk away as soon as they find themselves uninterested in the course material.

One solution is to integrate a rewards and recognition structure into the course. These may not necessarily have to be tangible or monetary rewards, but some sort of clear benefit from completion of the course – especially in the workplace – often has a positive effect on completion rates. If your learners are not entirely convinced that the educational material available to them is reward enough to see the course through, then perhaps the company can somehow make clear that completion of the course can enhance career opportunities and such like. If you want your workers to be taking the course in the first place, then presumably it will be for the purpose of bettering your business – and a better business means better profits. So the rewards you offer for those whom finish the courses can be seen as a business investment – an investment in a better workforce and better qualified employees.

Time Pressures

One of the ironies of e-learning is that despite the convenience of being able to learn in your own time and at your own pace, students often find that they do not have the ability to manage their own time in such a flexible manner. At work or at college, if there’s a class to go to, you go to it. Though when learning from home, if there’s something better to do then you do it. The temptation to procrastinate is the fatal flaw of many a home worker (writers included!!), and an online student who is lacking motivation anyway will quite easily find distractions from their work.

To combat this issue, some learning professionals have redesigned their courses so that the online material is only available for a very short period of time, with very strict deadlines for completion in place. This still allows for some flexibility, but not so much that there is too much time to be distracted.

It’s All About Great Design

The most important factor of course in improving those completion rates is to make sure that the course you are creating offers a superlative, engaging, ideally multi-media and possibly gamified learning experience that is of great quality from beginning to end. If the quality of the courseware and learning is poor in the first place, then no amount of incentives or time pressures will positively encourage learners to complete what they have started. Indeed, the better the course, the more likely it will gain endorsement by those who are higher up the corporate ladder in the workplace, or, in the college environment, the more recommendations it will get from influential students who will encourage others to take part and complete.

Rewards can no doubt be a useful tool in engaging the learner’s attention, and time pressures can act as incentives to get the work done, especially since the end of the course can be plainly put in sight for participants, but in the end it is content that is king yet again, and this will prove to be the determining factor in the success or not of your e-learning programs.