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We know its going to be a tough road ahead, particularly for our current students as we race to get ourselves ready – and as our students learn to adjust not only to the experience of learning online, but also to a change in assessments and personal overload. It’s going to be a few months before we see the size of the impact COVID-19 will have on overall retention, but its unlikely to be positive. In fact, based on many conversations I’ve had, I’d say that our next term will be significantly smaller both in new students and returning. I hope I’m wrong.

I’ve been speaking with students who are already feeling overwhelmed with additional assessments (replacing end of term exams), residential school shifts to additional online work, feeling disconnection between new assessments and their career requirements, and having to now home school their children at the same time. And these are students who are used to studying online. Their motivation is crumbling as other elements of their lives push into the spotlight – and suddenly study becomes a luxury.

Many students who have not studied online before are overwhelmed just by the idea – even more so than the reality. Many rely on the set time and structure of lectures to manage their studies as they lack the experience, confidence and know-how to do this on their own. They need much more help than we are used to giving.

Our overall challenge will be how do we not only retain students – but also how we retain their confidence in us and themselves. Will they feel that we able to teach them effectively (and that their career goals will not be adversely affected), and will they feel confident learning in this new reality?

The key factors impacting our new retention ability are likely to be:

  1. Quality of the online learning experience (value for their time and money, and does it feel like it is contributing to career goals)
  2. Speed and quality of responses (to questions, requests for help, complaints)
  3. Flexibility to student’s personal circumstances
  4. Support provided matches the needs of the students
  5. The student’s own confidence, mindset, awareness and strategies to study self paced and online
  6. Feelings of connectedness vs isolation
  7. Ability to financially continue studying vs ability to pay bills and feed their family (prioritisation) – a reassessment of the importance of their degree for now
  8. Sufficient time to study (some students may have more time, others will have significantly less)
  9. Personal well-being (mental well-being; physical health; amplification of existing illness or challenges; PTSD, depression and anxiety directly related to COVID19)
  10. Loss of motivation (linked to overwhelm and uncertainty)

For some universities, pre COVID19, online students were often treated as undesirable and/or not well serviced in a way that supported their needs. With all students now online there are major mindset and behaviour shifts that need to take place both for staff and for the students themselves.

So what to do first? Recognise just how fortunate we are.

We are very lucky that we are at this particular point in our technological development – even just five years ago this transition would have been so much more difficult. There are currently so many new enterprises with concepts and innovative businesses in the education space that are primed to help you through this challenge. Whether that is social connectivity, student preparedness, academic integrity monitoring tools, online assessments and proctoring…. not to mention how the LMS environment has also shifted significantly.

Reviewing what services you currently have – that are either available online or can be transitioned to an online face-to-face type experience is possibly the first step. Then of course, looking for gaps.

  • What do you need to completely rethink to maintain or replace a particular service online?
  • What have you never even thought of as an option or a gap before?
  • What are your students saying?
  • What are education businesses actually doing? What issues are they seeking to address and is that going to help you and your students? What support are they offering right now?
  • How do they connect or improve your existing services? For example, our Learn2Learn program can complement and build on existing student mentoring and peer support programs, and provides a framework for online mentoring.
  • Who/ what do they suggest you should also consider?

How can we help?

Revisit (or visit) our 10 critical steps (https://learngrowbecome.com/covid-19-and-the-urgent-shift-to-online-learning/) and take the time out to listen to the industry experts when it comes to designing a student experience that improves retention and engagement in general on the Student Experience Podcast (https://anchor.fm/learngrowbecome).

Our specialty is in helping students develop the mindset, behaviours, strategies and confidence to be self-aware and successful learners through our Learn2Learn University preparatory program. By helping students, we also help you and our communities to thrive.

We also know people. Learners, experts, entrepreneurs. We want you to have the best solutions for your problems, which may not be ours. We are all in this together.

Message or email (tanya@learngrowbecome.com) if we can support you in any way.