Retention and progression of online global students: a pilot approach

Slade, Sharon and Mullett, Elizabeth (2010). Retention and progression of online global students: a pilot approach. In: 9th European Conference on e-Learning (ECEL 2010), 4-5 Nov 2010, Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Porto, Portugal.



Higher education institutions are making increasing use of online course delivery as part of their standard offering. E-learning can support the move toward global student bodies and the possibility of more responsive teaching and learning environments. The Open University Business School has offered online distance learning courses for over 10 years and supports thousands of students each year. As student numbers have grown, the capacity to provide truly personalised academic, pastoral and administrative student support is clearly affected. This case study describes a pilot approach to delivering more intelligent and proactive intervention to students registered on an online, open entry, level 3 undergraduate programme. We briefly outline the programme and existing comparative data on known differences between the retention and final achievements of students receiving support solely online compared to those receiving a more traditional blended means of course delivery and tuition support. The study goes on to describe the developing work of the pilot team in setting in place a number of key interventions thought most likely to support the student through their study journey and optimise their chances of completion. The Open University in the UK, like other HE institutions, knows a great deal about its students before they start to study, and, perhaps like others, has not always fully exploited this information. The pilot team is now using profiling data to identify key student characteristics which suggest that additional pre-course contact would be helpful. This may be a discussion of how we might best support the student whilst on course, or may include advice about transferring to another course more suited to their experience or circumstances given the open entry nature of the courses.Systems have been developed and refined which allow the team to track student behaviour once the course has begun, and since the courses within the pilot make heavy use of a Moodle-based Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), there is much that is transparent to us. Each course has a number of defined milestones which have been agreed to be key or at least facilitative to the students' eventual completion and success. Our systems help us to work closely with course tutors and students to trigger additional contacts from the support team. Other support activities are designed to complement this ongoing work and will be described more fully in the paper. It is crucial that all of the work has the potential for automation and scalability – currently the pilot team is working with over 800 students in around 30 countries. This paper aims to demonstrate that the piloted levels of intervention are both achievable in the long term and cost-effective. Results from the first 2 pilot presentations will be shared alongside results from a comparator cohort.

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