How to get the most out of your online course

How many online courses have you enrolled in over the past two years? More importantly, how many of them did you actually complete?

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online learning, with a surge in both the number of learners as well as the kinds and numbers of courses on offer. And while “e-learning” has become a buzzword in the past two years, did you know that the term has existed since the ’90s? 

Simply put, e-learning is an environment of learning driven by technology. In the ’90s, the term was interchangeably used with distance learning. Today, its definition has evolved to describe learning systems hinged on access to diverse virtual, online, and interactive Internet-based resources. along with various other industries In 2022, it is estimated that 70% of citizens in India have access to the Internet via a smartphone. In 2010, this number was just about 1%. This has led to large scale innovations in the education sector, with growing numbers of homegrown companies offering Internet-based or e-Learning solutions. In 2021, India had a market share of 1.48 thousand crore rupees, or nearly $1.96 billion. This figure stood at 83 crores over a decade ago.

E-learning presents several advantages over traditional learning methods. Some of these are -

  • No time constraints, as learners get access resources on the go across a variety of devices
  • Limited language barriers, as content is often available in multiple languages
  • Global content providers providing diverse, high-quality courses
  • A holistic learning experience, where learners can learn not only from the course material but also through peer discussions, practice exercises, interactive quizzes, and capstone projects.
  • Recognition and certification from reputed universities and institutions who offer the courses
  • International community-building which in turn promotes new thoughts and ideas


Challenges along the way

Despite the advantages e-learning offers and the surge in course enrollments, the number of people who actually complete the course remains low. In fact, a large number of users sign up for the course and fail to complete it within the stipulated time. The attrition rate in India for online learning content is estimated to get as high as 90%. This means that only 10 in 100 learners who sign up will complete the course.

There are a host of factors that lead to such high attrition rates.

  1. Lack of knowledge about the level of difficulty
    This occurs when learners sign up for a course without getting a complete understanding of the difficulty level of the course. If the course is too easy or too difficult, learners tend to lose interest and drop out midway.
  2. Outdated or irrelevant content 
    If the course content is outdated or not relevant to the period in which it is being consumed, learners can drop out of boredom.
  3. Poor planning
    Learners often commit to a course without reflecting on whether they would be able to dedicate the time required to complete the course.
  4. Fee for a completion certificate
    In price-sensitive markets such as India, learners usually prefer free courses. While many course providers offer free access to their courses they charge a fee for the completion certificate. This becomes a barrier for learners who are reluctant to pay for a certificate for what is otherwise a free course. 
  5. Lack of interest
    Learners sometimes simply lack the intrinsic motivation to complete a course fully. They might have been interested in the course at the time of signing up but their interest wanes over a period of time and they end up dropping out.

Improving learning outcomes

There are habits that learners can inculcate to ensure they don’t fall into the vicious cycle of signing up for a course but not completing it within the stipulated time. These include -

  1. Setting aside dedicated time to consume the content in a productive environment
  2. Signing up for courses that are actually tied to their interests
  3. Doing a thorough check of  details such as course objectives, content difficulty, and the time commitment required to complete the course so they can take stock of their own time and resources
  4. Partnering up with a co-learner or a learning buddy who takes up  the same course, leads to stronger motivation
  5. Spending time to explore the format or the learning tool on which the course is hosted. Features such as the ability to share course progress, and course certificates on social media platforms act as a motivator and aid course completion

In addition, course providers too can aid learners' retention in the following ways

  1. Sending regular reminders via email and push notifications
  2. Scheduling reminders through virtual calendars such as iCal or Google Calendar
  3. Enabling interactive elements on the  learning platform while catering to diverse learning styles that suit the learners
  4. Encouraging group projects and spaces for collaboration
  5. Encouraging learner engagement via discussion forums
  6. Maintaining a holistic content framework, which not only includes video lectures, but also activities like quizzes, higher-order thinking questions, additional resources such as PDFs, and PPTs used in the course of the lecture.
  7. Offering content in short, consumable portions to spike learners’ interests as they make their way through the course become more interested, go further in the content.

Content providers must be clear about the needs of the learners before the course is designed. And once the course is online, it becomes paramount for them to keep the learner engaged at all stages of the course consumption. In turn, learners must align their learning needs with the course objectives. Active efforts from both providers and learners will work towards tackling the challenges that come with high attrition.

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