Online Learning Modules and Student Retention

October 10, 2016

Article By Jack Beam

It is no secret that colleges across the nation are incorporating more online learning into the standard curriculum. Online classes are becoming more prevalent and orientations done online are seeing an increase as well. With this progressive approach to learning, whether or not students retain the information that they learn always comes into question. Some argue that an in-person lecture is the only way that students will pay attention and learn the required material, and others argue that an online learning experience will give the student a more flexible approach to learning. By examining many such cases of online learning, I will argue the latter. Online learning modules help improve student content retention by specifically catering the module information toward the target audience, enabling the student to interact with the module, and continually reflecting on and addressing the feedback of the module. Evidence of this can be seen when analyzing the results found in the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority, Richland Community College, and the online education platform, EverFi.

            Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) is an international sorority that values leadership development, academic achievement, and civic excellence. When confronted with the topics of alcohol, hazing and sexual harassment, ZTA was given the task of combatting the negative perceptions and realities often associated with these topics. The leadership within ZTA decided that an online learning module would be the best way to implement the dissemination of information regarding such important issues. Partnering with EverFi, an online education platform, ZTA created a unique online learning module that was given to all of the ZTA sororities nationwide. After implementing the module, ZTA saw some very positive results. There was a 43% knowledge gain seen by members of the sorority, which is great news for their harm reduction and risk management program (Conway, 2016). These positive results however, weren’t achieved with ease.

The main problem that they faced when looking to implement an online learning module, was being able to effectively reach the many diverse campuses across the nation. Campuses such as New York University, Texas Tech University, and the University of Central Florida boasted unique student populations with varying needs and wants. ZTA and EverFi had these unique campus perspectives in mind throughout the entire module building process. Kyle Pendelton, the Director for Harm Reduction and Education at Zeta Tau Alpha was quoted saying the following, “We have really adapted our harm reduction and prevention models to each campus specifically, and the cultures on those campuses…We look at what the needs are of a given chapter on a given campus (Conway, 2016).” This showcases the priority given to adapting their online learning module to fit the needs of the diverse student population across the many ZTA campuses. From this, it can be seen that student content retention is positively impacted when the online learning module is catered specifically toward the target audience.

Similar to ZTA, Richland Community College (RCC) in Decatur, Illinois is using an online learning module to communicate information to their students. Richland currently offers a mandatory online orientation for students who are new to taking online classes. When multiple problems arose surrounding their in-person orientation, Richland decided to switch to an orientation that was done completely online. They decided to build their own online platform as opposed to hiring a third-party platform provider. RCC was aware of the viewpoint that online course retention was much lower than in-person courses, so they were careful to monitor the results seen by the program. After implementing the online orientation, the results were as follows:

“90% of the students felt that the [online] orientation was helpful in preparing them to use Richland’s learning management system…87% felt confident to very confident in their personal understanding of what it takes to be successful in an online course, and 93% felt confident to very confident in their ability to effectively navigate and use [Richlands learning management system] (Jones, 2016).”

While unfortunately we cannot compare these results to previous retention statistics, we can however see the positive retention rates that were a result of the online orientation. When trying to find the reasons behind such positive results, the structure of the online orientation needs to be analyzed. RCC’s orientation is very much centered on interactivity between the student and the module. Students must complete an interactive activity at the end of each learning section in order to move on to the next section. In addition, students must complete a final section that requires them to pass a cumulative quiz with an 80% or better. This quiz can be taken more than once, and aims to ensure that students are retaining the information that they are being presented with (Jones, 2016). It can now be argued that student content retention is positively impacted when interacting with an online learning module.

As previously mentioned, EverFi is a popular online learning platform that produces content related to STEM Readiness, Diversity and Inclusion, Health and Wellness, Career Leadership and Success, and Financial Capability. With over 12 million reached and 1,300 partners, EverFi is a leader in their online information-learning market. To give perspective on their current success, listed next are some exemplary success stories. Eastern Illinois University (EIU) used EverFi’s online courses to reduce at-risk drinking. Specifically, EIU mandated that all incoming and transfer students complete the AlcoholEdu program offered by EverFi. Adopting this program led to a 34% reduction in heavy drinking among students (EverFi, 2016). Indiana University (IU) partnered with EverFi to help their students make wiser decisions when it comes to finances. Since the online financial wellness program was commissioned in 2012, there are between 12 and 14 thousand IU students who complete the program every year. Also since 2012, the IU team has seen a $44 million reduction in student loans, which is a drop of 16% (EverFi, 2016). Both of these incredible stories showcase the success of EverFi and their online module system.

Something that sets EverFi apart from its competitors, and is arguably a main reason for their success, is how they go about developing the content. The development steps include Research, Design and Development, and Evaluation. Although each step is crucial to the success seen by EverFi, it is the evaluation phase that truly sets them apart. The evaluation phase is conducted before the online module hits the market, but also after the course has entered the market. This phase consists of listening labs, curriculum summits, focus groups, and end-of-the-semester surveys (EverFi, 2016). With the many evaluation methods that EverFi uses, they are able to get comprehensive feedback on their various online learning platforms. With this feedback, they can constantly change and improve their teaching methods to better reach the target audience. This relates to content retention because during the evaluation process, EverFi gets feedback on how effectively the learning module is conveying the necessary information to the viewers. This continual evaluation process is a key aspect in promoting student content retention.

With millennials being at the forefront of the knowledge acquiring generation, there has been much experimentation on how to effectively reach them. This essay argues that the online learning module is an effective way to teach that educationally based material. Online learning modules help improve student content retention by employing three main characteristics in their approach: catering the module information toward the target audience, enabling the student to interact with the module, and continually reflecting on and addressing the feedback of the module. This argument was supported with evidence from many different sources, including Zeta Tau Alpha, Richland Community College, and EverFi, an online learning program. Seeing the current positive content retention rates among students, the future of online learning modules looks promising. It will be interesting to see how the online learning approach will supplement other aspects of students’ daily lives.

Bibliography

Conway, James T. "Reducing Member Harms and Risks: Addressing Alcohol, Hazing, and Sexual Assault at Zeta Tau Alpha." PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): n. pag. EverFi. Web. 08 May 2016.

"EverFi - Teaching the Critical Skills That Life and Work Demand." EverFi. N.p., 2016. Web. 07 May 2016 <www.everfi.com>.

Jones, Kora Renee. "Developing and Implementing a Mandatory Online Student Orientation." Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks17.1 (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 8 May 2016.

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