retention in distance education: are we failing our students?

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Presentation to the 17th International Conference of the Brazilian Distance Educaction Association

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‘Retention in Distance Education: - are we failing our students?’ Ormond Simpson Visiting Fellow, University of London International Programme Previously Visiting Professor, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand Previously Senior Lecturer in Institutional Research, UK Open University Author ‘Supporting Students in Online Open and Distance Learning’ and ‘ Student Retention in Online Open and Distance Learning ’ ormond.simpson@googlemail.com www.ormondsimpson.com 1

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3 Graduation rates - distance education and conventional education Conventional education institutions Distance education institutions

Dropouts from distance education:

Dropouts from distance education 4 questions… Why do they drop out? When do they drop out? What happens to them? How can we do better? 4

Why students drop out :

Why students drop out Many reasons given, but most importantly: “The best predictor of student retention is motivation . Most students drop out because of reduced motivation” - Professor E. Anderson National Conference on Student R etention, San Diego, Calif. USA, 2003 5

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Why students drop out 6

When students drop out:

When students drop out Start 100 62 57 5 2 38 43 48 7 2 5 ASSIGNMENT RIVERGRAM FOR UK Open University 100 students start course. At each assignment some drop out into the ‘exit’ channel. Most drop out before the first assignment Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Progress Exit

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Probability of suffering depression, unemployment and (women) partner violence, according to educational experience (Bynner, 2002) Probability of: 8 What happens to students who dropout? - effects of dropout on full-time students in the UK dropouts

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Do we know what happens to distance education dropouts? 9

Conventional vs distance higher education (UK comparisons) :

Conventional vs distance higher education (UK comparisons) Conventional higher education Distance higher education Investment cost to students compared 100% 5% Risk of losing investment due to dropping out 20% >80% 10

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Investing in distance education is riskier than wildcat oil well drilling

Retention – what can we do? (1) What’s the research picture?:

Retention – what can we do? (1) What’s the research picture? Little retention-focused research literature in international distance education. Retention-focused literature often limited value because of inadequate research techniques Institutional retention projects seldom successful in producing long term increases in retention. E-learning - little evidence that e-learning produces cost-effective increases in student retention. 12

Retention – what can we do? :

Retention – what can we do? 13 “Trying everything that works doesn’t work” Johnston (1998) ‘Many retention projects fade out after a few years’ Tinto (2009) ‘Retention goulash’

Retention – what can we do? :

Retention – what can we do? Distance Course Design for retention Student Support for retention 14

Distance Course design for retention :

Distance Course design for retention - structures – how the course is organised - assessment – how the course is assessed - writing – how the course is written 15

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 1:

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 1 ‘Flexibility’ - choice of material to study - choice of time to study - choice of assessment (Crooke 2008) 16

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 2 Cognitive Load Theory:

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 2 Cognitive Load Theory Working memory Long term memory Learning 17

Distance Course design for retention - Course Structures ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ (CLT):

Distance Course design for retention - Course Structures ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ (CLT) ‘Cognitive load’ affects way learning is transferred from working memory to short term memory . 3 types of load: 'intrinsic' load due to inherent difficulty of the subject - needs to be managed 'extraneous' load due to way information is presented - - should be minimised 'germane' load due to way information relates to previous information - needs to be maximised. Impelluso (AJDE, 2009) claimed using Cognitive Load Theory to redesign a course increased retention 18

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 3 Course Assessment :

Distance Course design for retention Course Structures 3 Course Assessment 1. ‘Interpretive’ worked examples ( H attie, 2005) - worked examples with commentary 2. Formative assessment ( Yorke , 2002) – assignments that do not count towards course assessment.

Course - without formative assessment :

Course - without formative assessment 100 62 57 52 38 43 48 7 2 5 ASSIGNMENT RIVERGRAM – FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT 100 students start the course. At each assignment some drop out and enter the ‘exit’ channel. A very few re-enter the ‘progress’ channel having skipped the previous assignment Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Progress Exit

Course - with formative assessment :

Course - with formative assessment 100 72 70 65 28 30 35 11 9 5 ASSIGNMENT RIVERGRAM – FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT 100 students start the course. At each assignment some drop out and enter the ‘exit’ channel. A very few re-enter the ‘progress’ channel having skipped the previous assignment. FORMATIVE Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Progress Exit

Course - without formative assessment :

Course - without formative assessment 100 62 57 52 38 43 48 7 2 5 ASSIGNMENT RIVERGRAM – FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT 100 students start the course. At each assignment some drop out and enter the ‘exit’ channel. A very few re-enter the ‘progress’ channel having skipped the previous assignment Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Progress Exit

Course - with formative assessment :

Course - with formative assessment 100 72 70 65 28 30 35 11 9 5 ASSIGNMENT RIVERGRAM – FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT 100 students start the course. At each assignment some drop out and enter the ‘exit’ channel. A very few re-enter the ‘progress’ channel having skipped the previous assignment. FORMATIVE Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Progress Exit

Distance Course design for retention - Course Writing:

Distance Course design for retention - Course Writing Course Language Typography Layout all effect ‘readability’ Datta , S. Macdonald Ross, M. (2002 ) 24

Student Support :

Student Support Everything apart from the course text teaching a dvising counselling a dministration etc 25

Retention and Student Support :

26 Retention and Student Support ‘ Student self-referral does not work as a mode of promoting persistence. Students who need services the most refer themselves the least. “ Effective retention services take the initiative in outreach and timely interventions with those students.’ (Anderson, US 2004) 26

Proactive Motivational Support (PaMS) - evidence from randomised controlled trials :

Proactive Motivational Support ( PaMS ) - evidence from randomised controlled trials 27 Also: Case and Elliot, Chyung , Visser and others Study Method Increase in completion Simpson (2006) Pre-course phone call 5.1% Twyford (2007) Motivational emails 11.7% Huett (2008) Motivational emails 23.4% Simpson (2010) Motivational emails + phone call 18.9%

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28 Proactive Motivational Support Emphasise the positive during initial contact with students Focus on students’ existing strengths, rather than weaknesses Draw out their past successes and high point moments Identify underlying values and goals Identify their resources, protective factors and potentials (Simpson, 2008)

Return on investment in proactive contact:

Return on investment in proactive contact 29 Increase in fees from increase in students re-enrolling because of increase in retention Cost of retention activity Return on Investment Example: UKOU Pre-course phone call project (2006) – return on investment ≈ 450% So R$1 invested R$4.50 back

Funding Proactive Motivational Support :

30 Funding Proactive Motivational Support R$ Fund support Increases student success More students continue on and pay more fees The ‘plastic’ triangle?

What are the barriers to increasing retention? :

What are the barriers to increasing retention? “The biggest barrier to increasing retention in an institution... ... is the institution itself” - Johnston (Napier University, S cotland, 2002) 31

Attitudes to student retention 1 :

A ttitudes to student retention 1 The ‘Darwinistas’ Students drop out because they're not intelligent enough, unmotivated or lazy. “We’re here to weed out the unfit” 32

Attitudes to student retention 2 :

Attitudes to student retention 2 The Fatalistas Students dropout for reasons beyond our control “Students are doomed to pass or fail and there’s not much we can do about it” 33

Attitudes to student retention 3 :

Attitudes to student retention 3 The ‘ Retentioneer ’ “We should help students be as successful as they can be” Students most often dropout because of lack of proactive support. We must find ways of ‘reaching the quiet student’ ( Bogdan ) 34

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