Why Students Drop out of Distance Learning Programs

Any educational program is bound to have its share of successful students along with those who can’t seem to make the grade or keep up with the coursework and eventually drop out of individual courses or even entire educational programs altogether.  Traditional educational environments have never claimed to guarantee that a student will successfully compete the program.  However, the unique circumstances surrounding a distance learning curriculum can put an unsuspecting student into an awkward position that may result in failure and ultimately cause them to drop out of the program. 

There are many reasons why a student may drop out of class, but for distance learning students there is one very large hurdle with which to contend.  One of the biggest advantages of distance learning, the ability to study at your own pace at a time and in a place convenient to the student’s lifestyle, can also be one of the biggest drawbacks.  For students without a strong sense of direction or with an inability to develop dedicated study habits, separation from the watchful eye of a course instructor can lead to postponing course work and an eventual back slide so great that it cannot be overcome.  Slipping under the radar can be easier to do in a distance learning program.

Success in a distance learning environment placed a critical value on the student’s ability to be self-sufficient.  Success depends on the student’s ability to be self-motivated, conscientious and goal oriented.  Any good distance learning course will be structured in a way that the student should have little or no trouble breaking down the coursework into manageable chunks to be dealt with as needed in order to complete assignments and pass exams on schedule.  However, it is up to the student to make sure they are checking in with the weekly lectures and following the syllabus to see what requirements must be met.  A distance learning student may fall perilously behind in the coursework before the instructor is aware of it. 

Distance learning students have an obligation to themselves to make sure their presence is known to the instructor right from the very first day of class.  An online introduction at the start of the semester, presence in the online chat room or regular question and answer sessions between the instructor and the student are essential elements to creating a successful environment for the student.  Course instructors are human beings, after all, and they are far more likely to show concern and support for a struggling student who makes their presence known and actively participates in the class than one who lurks quietly in the background.  Out of sight, out of mind, is an all too easy trap to fall into when a distance learning student is only a “ghost” in the course, quietly reading and turning in assignment or taking tests without providing an active voice in the online process.

Distance learning places a little more responsibility on the student to achieve success in the program.  In fact, completion of a distance learning degree gives the student the added distinction of being able to show a prospective employer a certain level of self-direction and self-motivation.  No one completes a distance learning program without being able to take charge of their own educational process.  For those who may struggle with that level of freedom, unfortunately, the possibility of dropping out due to an inability to keep up with the class is an ominous possibility.