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Best Practice: Increase Student Retention

The Five Pillars of Online Learning Effectiveness [1] provide a framework for developing and sustaining online learning programs. The five pillars were created by J. C. Moore of The Sloan Consortium and include Faculty Satisfaction, Student Satisfaction, Learning Effectiveness, Scale, and Access.

Researchers J. C. Moore and M. J. Fetzner [2] mapped online retention best practices to each of the five pillars, resulting in a compiled list of common practices shared by institutions with high online course completion rates. The following best practices for the Learning Effectiveness and Student Satisfaction pillars are drawn from their research. You can use them to support students in successfully completing your courses. To read about best practices for all five of the pillars, see the full article [2].

column_icon.png   Learning Effectiveness Pillar

Featured best practice: Emphasize intensive faculty-student and student-student interactivity.

  1. As you welcome students and introduce yourself to the class, include a photo and model the type of information you want your students to include in their introductions.

  2. speech_bubbles.pngUse the student’s name in one-to-one personal communications and in public discussion postings in Blackboard. This encourages individual students to respond to your posts.

  3. In your Announcements and Discussions areas, consider using phrases such as “our class” instead of “the class” and “we’ve had a great week” instead of “it’s been a good week.” This helps the one-to-many posts seem more personal to each student.

  4. Plan to create at least three announcements or discussion posts each week to establish your online presence and show students that you are monitoring the course regularly.

  5. For group work, assign student leaders in each group to facilitate discussions and post the team’s final answers to the group assignment. This allows the faculty member to review the team’s work and discussions by group, rather than by each individual.

column_icon.png   Student Satisfaction Pillar

Featured best practice: Identify online learning obstacles to eliminate them for students.

  1. If your institution offers an orientation to online learning, encourage or require students to take it. If this is not offered, create an initial unit in your course that outlines your expectations, offers time management tips, and gives students an opportunity to practice with online tools such as tests and assignments in a non-graded situation.
  2. computer_obstacles.pngWhen using collaborative tools such as discussions, blogs, journals, and wikis, let students take the lead to prepare them for the types of online communication they will encounter in the workforce.
  3. Use Blackboard’s Retention Center to quickly identify students who are struggling. Contact the students individually to find out what their specific difficulty is and what can be done to solve it.
  4. Seek student input with course surveys and regular, informal “temperature checks.” Find out what is working for them and what is not. Demonstrate that their opinion matters.
  5. Provide links to campus resources such a advising, disability services, scheduling, registration, and technical support.


[1] Moore, J. C. (2002). The Sloan-C Pillar Reference Manual Quick Guide. The Sloan Consortium.

[2] Moore, J. C., and Fetzner, M. J. (2009). The road to retention: A closer look at institutions that achieve high course completion rates. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN) 13(3), 15-17.


Marie Fetzner, Ed. D. | Monroe Community College | Rochester, NY