There are many obstacles that contribute to the high failure rate for students who take online classes. What do you think are some of the reasons why approximately half of all students fail their online classes? What can we do to help students become more successful?

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Tags: online, pedagogy

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I think you're spot on, Derek. There is no way you can even begin to fully understand how to manage online learning without at some stage experiencing it yourself.

Just in reference to the different approach - I've found that in order to engage and maintain student involvement needs me to give more of myself. There's less distance between me and my students - which is facilitated by web2.0 tools. If I was to try and stay distance and aloof from the online discussions and goings on of the students in our space I don't think it'd work.
"Teaching online requires a different approach and IMO requires the teacher to be more actively involved in the day to day activities of the online classroom."

I agree with this completely. The best strategy is to have your course developed early on, and then spend your daily time tweeking it, contacting students, checking student progress, designing individualized tasks for students, emailing, etc.

"I also think that in order to be a good online teacher, you need to also have the experience of being an online student."
While I think this can be important for some, I would disagree that you HAVE to be an online student. I taught online for almost 4 years before ever taking an online course. I taught myself, through my PLN, and through any research I could find, how to develop courses and TEACH online. When I got into my Masters online, I felt that many of the professors were not very good online teachers and challenged them on content development, pacing, communication, and course layout. In a sense this supports your comment, like when you are listening to a radio program that you totally disagree with it helps you better clarify your own opinion. However, I think training from qualified online teachers is a much better strategy for overcoming obstacles then taking courses online.

That point of distinction aside, I agree that most teachers would benefit at least a little from an online class. Sadly to say though, many of the teachers in my Masters program don't know that what they are seeing is bad teaching since they DONT have any experience teaching online.
Beth, i think primary reason for this is the novelity of the whole concept of online teaching. With the increased computer intervention in our lives and literacy rate mounting, i am convinced the reason for failure is not illiteracy, its the adaption thats causing bad results. I believe to fix this, we need to create more user-friendly and intuitive interfaces for learning tools that provide students with ease of access. Careful instructional design can produce high rate of success and satisfaction. A by-product with increased interest and participation in online communities, bringing it to new level of learning and collaboration.
Based on what my students have told me the number one reason is their own procrastination. They also mentioned that the procrastination led to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that piled up and then felt too overwhelmed to catch up, which led to more procrastination and denial. (I'll be fine; I can catch up later" and other similar statements). We studied defense mechanisms in Logic and Rhetoric last year and the majority of students identified either procrastination or "lying to myself" as their most common defense mechanisms. I realize this is anecdotal, but if I conducted formal research among my 200 students, I would not be surprised to have it confirmed. Students also mentioned their own laziness as well as being distracted online by social networks, instant messaging and gaming.
Dear ma'm, I'm really happy to be a member of Teacher Ning. Wen i joined Ning, i found myself a a particular of a drop in a ocean. I run a school for poor family children here in a rural area of Nepal. Our student's have not chance to use computer. If we had computers and could afford for net, I'd certainly start online education at school. Do you have any idea for the solution of this problem. U'd find so vast differences being there and here in this poor area. I hope my ning friends will certainly think of my problems. If they start fundraise we can certainly busy at least 3 pcs a year. plz. if u have any idea mail me at Hpe you'll tell this sad story to your more friends.
Sincerely urs
Govinda (a school teacher)
Dear Govinda,
I read your post and though I don't have a solution for your problem, there is a program here in the United States that provides laptops to children in developing areas of the world. Please contact them to let them know of your desire to connect to the rest of the world through Internet access. Their web site is

I enjoyed so much the pictures of your students and hope for your success with your students. Please stay in touch.
Where did you get the statistic that "half of all students fail their online classes"? I've been teaching online... partly or fully online... for seven years and, by far, most of my students pass. However, I have found the graduate students are far more successful than undergraduate. The undergrads that were unsuccessful would tell me that they never could remember to check the webpage. I'd have to send them e-mails saying, "Are you there?"
Carrie - I believe Beth was referring to high school students, not the college level.
Thanks for clarifying Cory. I was referring to high school students. This is my first year year teaching online. A few months ago I was convinced that if I worked hard enough all of my students would pass. I thought that if I developed a great class and gave excellent directions that I would have a 100% passing rate. There were a few obstacles that I never expected to encounter.

This is the first year our school offered online classes. Our students are located at schools from around the panhandle of Nebraska. They are assigned a period during the day when they work on their online class. Most of the students do not have access to the Internet outside of school.

1. The students that were enrolled on the classes are "at-risk" students. This was the last chance for many students. A lot of the schools dumped these students in our program so they would not be a burden in their high schools. We do not have control over who takes online classes. We can only make suggestions to the 21 districts we work with.

2. We developed rigorous, standards-based classes that proved to be too difficult for the students. Hopefully when districts have the opportunity to send new students to us in January they make better decisions about who to send to us. Scraping the bottom of the barrel was not a good move on their part. I know this sounds harsh, but the students that were placed on our program were not good candidates for online learning. One student was deaf and legally blind---------a small little fact his school did not bother to mention!

3. The technological capabilities of the schools where the students are located are not up to par. This is a HUGE problem. Students have had so much trouble opening files because their computers are so slow. Just logging on at some schools take 20 minutes. (This is NOT an exaggeration.) The only students who are on track are the few who are able to get caught up at home. All of the schools in western Nebraska are going to have upgrades done to their Internet and distance learning systems this summer. Hopefully the increase in bandwidth will speed things up a bit, but what they really need are new computers. Several schools are using machines that are nearly 10 years old.

4. We expected students to have basic knowledge of computers. I knew we'd have to teach students how to edit a wiki and the ins and outs of Google Docs, but I thought students would at least know how to perform basic tasks. NO SUCH LUCK. We (I) also expected students to be resourceful enough to figure out how to solve basic problems such as retrieving forgotten passwords.

I started the year with about 15 students and not I have four who will probably make it through the year. The rest have either dropped the class, are still enrolled but are inactive, or they are so far behind they are wasting their time. I believe that online learning is a great way to learn, but it is not for every student. It has the potential to level the playing field between students at large schools who have access to a considerable number of classes and those at small schools who have no choices at all. However the students at the small, rural schools will not be able to participate in our online program if their schools step up to the plate and invest in technology.
For me, the students that fail my online courses are those that fail to keep up with the course assignments. These students do not manage their time well and think that because the course is "anytime-anywhere" they can do their homework or class assignments "anytime" and so forth.

In my class, I develop a detailed weekly checklist for students--a sort of "here's what you should do this week"--like a guide for them . I also make it a habit to send my students reminders for assignments and to seek out my lurkers. If I have not heard from a student, I contact the student to see what's going on. I look at the login dates constantly to determine who is missing in action.

I also ask students individual questions about the class content to determine if they are reading it--so in addition to the same discussion they respond to--I have them post the question I asked them to answer and faciliate with the rest of the class members. Delegating work to my students gets them more involved with genrating content for the class--for example, I often ask my students to go out on the web and locate videos on the topic we are addressing in class and then ask students to upload them to our site and to comment on them.

The more you make students feel that they have a definite role in the class, the better.

I agree with most of the posts--it is extremely important for the students to feel a part of the class and to feel as if they have a stake in the matters. What I found to be critical, though, while working on my graduate degree on line, was time management. It is so easy to say you will do it later, but.... Time management skills are a critical component to success in the online arena.



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