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How to get students to show up and learn

By Lisa Neal / July 2002

TYPE: OPINION
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No one has exact numbers, but there is a general agreement that attrition is higher in online courses than in classroom-delivered courses. High drop-out rates have been attributed to the demographics of online students, the inexperience of online faculty, poorly designed e-learning technologies, flawed course design, and low bandwidth. Whatever the root cause, I believe the problem can be largely solved through accountability. But how can student accountability be achieved?

In my own online teaching, mostly blended courses for corporate training, I ask my students to let me know in advance if they will miss a synchronous session. They always tell me and always have good reasons—it's hard, under the circumstances, to use a trivial one. I greet each student at the beginning of class and often call on a student to lead a discussion or summarize a reading assignment. I occasionally call on people during class if I haven't heard from them or think they might have insights on a topic. This adds accountability—for the students to show up, be prepared, stay focused, and participate.

My goal is for my students to learn, but to accomplish that I need to get them to class, get them to do their assignments, and keep them from playing solitaire or reading their email during class. I try to create an environment that fosters personal responsibility. While I prefer that this happen because a discussion is fascinating, I'm willing to have them become more attentive because they don't want to be called on when unprepared or distracted.

When one is young, success in school is largely based on showing up and displaying appropriate behavior. As one gets older, there's more intrinsic motivation arising from the desire to learn or the need for professional achievement. But even an intrinsically motivated student has to squeeze an online class into a busy day. That's why accountability is so important.

The last time I was required to take an online course, I took it on a Saturday, the last day I could complete it without being labeled a "no-show." Since I prefer to be recognized for my accomplishments rather than for my oversights, this motivated me to finally take the class, after over two weeks of trying to fit it in every day. Is that accountability? Yes. Did it motivate me? Yes. But my focus was on passing the test, not understanding and mastering the material.

A teacher who creates an accountability-focused learning environment can show students how the content of a course is relevant and useful, and therefore worthy of attendance and attention. One should build enthusiasm and provide context for students so they understand how to apply what they are learning. This should be the goal in any teaching environment, but it's harder to achieve online—as high drop-out rates reveal. But that's the sort of challenge that makes teaching worthwhile.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Learner on the Orient Express
  2. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  3. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  4. "Spot Learning"
  5. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  6. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  7. "Deep" thoughts
  8. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  9. Degrees by mail
  10. The Value of Voice
  11. Predictions for 2006
  12. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  13. Five questions...
  14. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  15. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  16. Music lessons
  17. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  18. Advertising or education?
  19. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  20. Predictions for 2008
  21. Serious games for serious topics
  22. Back to the future
  23. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  24. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  25. Do it yourself
  26. Storytelling at a distance
  27. Predictions for 2004
  28. Predictions For 2003
  29. Q&A
  30. Talk to me
  31. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  32. Online learning and fun
  33. Everything in moderation
  34. eLearning and fun
  35. The basics of e-learning
  36. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  37. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  38. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  39. My life as a Wikipedian
  40. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  41. Blended conferences
  42. Predictions for 2002
  43. Learning from e-learning
  44. Q&A with Don Norman
  45. In search of simplicity
  46. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  47. Want better courses?
  48. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  49. Just "DO IT"
  50. Senior service
  51. Formative evaluation
  52. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  53. Predictions for 2007
  54. Not all the world's a stage
  55. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  56. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  57. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?