Tips for Increasing E-learning Completion Rates

Here are some strategies your company can use to help ensure a high coursecompletion rate from Augusto Failde, senior vice president of global developmentat NYUonline:

Develop a culture that takes online learning just as seriously as classroomtraining.
An employee who goes to a classroom or training lab to learn usuallywon’t be interrupted for routine matters, even if the classroom is on site. Butemployees who learn at their desktops often face constant distractions. Aprofessionally made “Do Not Disturb” sign can help, especially if amanager respects an employee’s e-learning time.
Many corporate e-learners say they would rather leave their desks entirely togo to a training lab. If that’s not possible, designating several workstationsfor e-learning at least allows participants to leave their own desks. For manye-learners, studying at home is best. Whenever possible, offer courses throughthe Internet or provide intranet access at home. Employees studying on their owntime will more than cover any added costs involved.
Do individual comparisons.
A company’s competitive culture can be leveragedby showing charts of “percentage completion” by each student for allparticipants (where they stand compared to other participants). Use weeklye-mail updates to communicate the results. Online education providers should beable to support companies by sending the charts to project managers andadministering a provider-based database or sending weekly email updates.However, email from a manager at the participating corporation is usually moreeffective.

A Fortune 50™ Company has created an internal competition to complete andpass online management courses. Managers on all levels compare their “timescores” and use these as a means of pride. This competition was againinitiated at senior management levels, and shared with employees via internalnewsletter, e-mails, Web site, etc.

Hold managers accountable for the success of their employees.
For example,Dell Computer managers get personal e-mail from CEO Michael Dell if the onlinecourse completion rate in their divisions isn’t 100%. Senior management shouldalso act as role models, taking and completing online courses themselves.
Use managers as role models.
If senior managers and business unit managerstake and complete the online courses in a reasonable time, employees feel thatthey can do it, too.
Create a social dimension to e-learning.
Elliot Masie of the Masie Centersays it’s important for companies to find ways to provide social interactionalongside the e-learning experience. He suggests assigning pre-work thatrequires e-learners to interact with colleagues, requiring team projects duringclass, and providing an at-work coach who can help students with course content.You can also provide perks like a free lunch to employees taking the same onlinecourse to foster discussion about course topics.
Make expectations clear up front.
Often, employees simply have to be told bya supervisor that it’s important for them to finish the course. One ofNYUonline’s clients had its vice-president of training meet personally withparticipants prior to a course launch to explain the importance of the course.It’s always better to positively reinforce course completion. Tell employees itwill be looked upon favorably in their evaluation, rather than threateningpunishment.
Provide formal rewards.
Financial incentives seem to work best for peopletaking their first online course. Once they finish a course they often return.For example, 60% of e-learners at TransAmerica Financial Services, which hasbeen offering financial incentives, return for another course. Professionalcertificates or credit are also an important motivator. If the course itselfdoesn’t offer a college credit, the company can provide a certificate.Highlighting “individual” employee rewards from online education –aside from the obvious knowledge and training serves as an incentive toemployees to complete courses. Better career prospects, personal fulfillment,more bankability, are such rewards.
Track performance.
As GE Capital discovered, performance tracking is crucial.A supervisor who doesn’t know whether an employee has progressed through acourse can do little to motivate or help them. When supervisors checkperformance, they can intervene if an employee is lagging behind. For example,the supervisor can find out if the employee is suffering from too manydistractions.

Managers can also use performance-tracking data to create and post dashboards- regular reports on progress through a course. Dashboards can show the averagestudent’s progress or the entire range of individual progress. (But neveridentify lagging e-learners by name — public humiliation is not a good way tomotivate.) If an e-learner who has fallen behind sees she’s in the bottom tenpercent or is five lessons behind the average student, that alone can be a powermotivator. Dashboards can also be used for team or individual competitions. Thefirst e-learner who hits the midway portion of the course can get a free dinner,or a team can win T-shirts.

Get personal.
Business unit managers and direct supervisors can sendindividual e-mail to participants who are behind in course completion, askinghow the course is going, and if they need any help or assistance. Onlineeducation providers, such as NYUonline, should be able to provide companies witha draft of such e-mails.
Hold a team competition.
Dividing eLearners into teams of two or more — bybusiness units; geographic location, etc. and pitting team against team in a”course completion competition” leads to a spirited sports-likerivalry between teams and lower drop-out rates.
Launch a communications campaign.
Use e-mails, newsletters, and Web sites tohighlight employees taking online courses. Have top e-learning performers giveadvice to others taking courses.

    The bottom line is companies must manage e-learning and not expect that allemployees can complete courses without any support. External vendors can’t dothe job of management, although a good e-learning provider can certainly provideconsulting services on how best to manage the online experience.

    As e-learning matures, will we see course completion rates rise to the levelof classroom education? Probably, but the future of e-learning shouldn’t focuson trying to replicate the classroom experience. Retention studies show peopleattending a lecture remember only five percent of what they’ve heard. E-learningcan do much better through simulations, probing discussions, and practicingskills.

    The e-learning industry is moving toward a future in which the most importantproduct is not a course, but learning objects, the building blocks of a course.Learning objects are small chunks of instruction that take about 15-20 minutesof study. They are easy to revise and update so learning becomes much moretopical and relevant. You can mix and match learning objects to create a course.E-learners are already creating their own courses by deciding which learningobjects they need to learn a particular skill. What used to be just-in-caselearning has become just in time, and in the future we can expect learning thatis just-for-me.

    As students take responsibility for their learning, the whole concept of acourse will become less relevant, and with it, the dropout rate. But engagingand satisfying the e-learner will always be crucial. Good companies thatrecognize the importance of human capital must motivate and support employees asthey develop a commitment to life-long learning.

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