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Driving Student Retention for eLearning and MOOCs – Part 1

In this 2-part series, we address core common issues that marketers face in the eLearning/Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) market. Below is Part 1 of the series where we cover the issues with 1st-time enrollees and then repeat enrollment (taking more courses) at a high level. In Part 2 we will dive deeper into these, as well as a few more areas that are often forgotten (HINT: Do your students feel comfortable using your platform?) This is not an extensive list nor the full extent of our research, it is meant as a starting point.


 

Whether you call it student churn, student retention, student attrition, or a number of other terms, one of the primary issues for eLearning companies like Udacity, Coursera, EdX, and dozen of others is keeping students – more importantly, keeping students coming back. The stark reality is that up to 90% of students who enroll in an online course simply don’t complete the course, and that number only gets slightly better when students have actually paid for the course.

A University in Everyone’s Pocket

With today’s perpetually connected consumer, every person now walks around with an entire university in their pocket where an aspiring archaeologist can learn about the history of Egypt or a developer can now get a nano-degree in autonomous cars. But the beauty and the pain arises quickly when one is perpetually connected: there are so many choices, so many apps and emails and messages distracting us, and finally, an expectation of personalization and individual relevance within each choice and through every communication. The end result becomes not just an ADD-like attention span, at a more basic level, people just get busy and lose track of what they have signed up for. (And like mentioned earlier, just because someone has paid, doesn’t necessarily mean someone will stay committed.)

With this rise of a greater number Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their evolution into delivering “for credit” or certificates of completion, potential students have more choices. Students must feel they are being respected as individuals with their own education needs. They expect personalize, relevant communications at all times throughout their user experience both on and off the platform.

NOTE: One of the issues for eLearning are people who just “kick the tires” to find out what the content, site, or app is all about. In Part 2 of this series we will highlight a key strategy to better identify who those students are.


So how does an eLearning organization keep the students coming back?

How do you convert the “one-and-done”/fleeting students to a more casual student and then to the “life-long learner” that makes a habit out of taking classes and paying for courses, degrees, and certificates?

PROBLEM #1: 1st COURSE COMPLETION

Getting students to complete their first course is half the battle. Often, these students are acquired with marketing spend. And, like mobile apps and games, the “novelty” or “excitement” of an online course and learning something new wains and that dreaded retention cliff proves time and time again less than 10% of students will complete their first course. And if they don’t complete their first course, they have a statistically low chance of enrolling in another, or paying for another course or certificate.

NOTE: While this problem primarily addresses getting students to complete the first course, the same strategy and engagement tactics can be used for every subsequent course.

SOLUTION:

Build a welcome/on-boarding series that leverages multiple channels. Simply relying on emails is a sure fire recipe for failure, especially when an eLearning destination has a mobile app. Be where your students are and where they engage. If they are in the App, trigger in-app messages based on their behavior, bring them back to the course. More importantly, when they are outside the app, leverage mobile push notifications that are tailored to the exact course they are taking. Make it personalized and relevant to them. (DO NOT simply blast them with a message that says “You’re course is waiting.”).

*  Send an onboard/welcome campaign

*  Use “reminders” to gently nudge them to complete the exact course and level they are in

*  Use multiple channels like mobile, email, in-app, even SMS

*  Personalize every communication to make it relevant and resonate with the student as an individual

 

PROBLEM #2: REPEAT ENROLLMENT:

Getting students to sign up for more courses must be an organization’s highest goal to get the highest LifeTime Value (LTV) from each student. This focus helps move students from the “one-and-done” learner to the more occasional or even life-long student. If an organization runs on the freemium model, then re-enrollment is paramount to generating revenue. If an organization is pure-play paid (either as a subscription or via certificates), then getting students to re-enroll and take more courses adds that additional revenue that drives higher LTV and helps identify behaviors and attributes that can feed into the acquisition strategy.

The feeling of accomplishment from completing a course is double edged. In one respect, they feel accomplished and satisfied. They completed a course. Either they feel empowered and, hopefully, want to learn more, or they feel satisfied, and, sadly, simply move on to another activity or interest outside of the learning environment. What would you do?

SOLUTION:

Capture that feeling of accomplishment and feed them more courses. IMMEDIATELY.

Build on the excitement with timely messages triggered on the completion or even near completion of that course. And don’t hesitate. Leveraging real-time triggers makes sure that messages are sent at the right time. At the bare minimum, prompt them to sign up for more courses, perhaps with incentives or discounts. BUT, if you really want to drive retention, the simple step is to offer them courses they may like, based on browsing behavior, the subject matter of the course they just completed, or use collaborative filtering to recommend courses that others have taken who have taken this course. Tracking real-time behavior is critical.

The advanced step: (HINT: you should be doing this to stay relevant and competitive) Leverage a full understanding of how they engaged with that course (length of course, timing, subject matter, test scores) coupled with a full history of ALL of their courses taken and browsed and engaged to deliver a truly personalized set of recommendations. Be student-centric by building out profiles of every student that not only tracks static attributes like geography, gender, email address, etc, but also keeps a full transaction and engagement history of courses and even the messages you’ve sent.

Then, use multiple communication channels to message them: emails, mobile push, SMS, In-App, On-Site, even leverage Facebook Re-targeting to get them to come back with very specific recommendations. (Yes, even your advertising should be personally relevant to re-engage your students.)

*  Timing is of the essence, act quickly to re-engage students.

*  Recommend courses that others like them have taken or that they have browsed.

*  Take it a step further and build out predictive recommendations based on their full engagement history.

*  Use every channel at your disposal to re-engage them personally, even Facebook.

NEXT STEPS:

Ask yourself:

  • What are you doing today to address these issues?
  • What data are you missing to start acting on these tactics?
  • Do you have control of the data?
  • Do you have real-time data that enables fast segmentation to engage students with up-to-the-moment messaging?

In Part 2, we will address HOW to get there and uncover a few more obstacles common with student retention for eLearning and MOOCs. In addition, we’ll show you how we help Udacity drive increased student retention through these very strategies.