5 ways to Increase Retention Rate in Your Online Course

John Shannon

It’s a well-known fact that the eLearning and online education market has seen some incredible growth in the last 10 years. Though the growth of the industry is impressive, there has been a large lack noticed within retention rates of the students actually taking these courses.

Research has stated that online course average rates of completion are only 13%! For edupreneurs who sell online courses, this can create an even more difficult issue of acquiring new online students, and a large marketing focus should be spent on retaining current students, as cost per acquisition can be quite high. This makes it more difficult to build long-term revenue.

Creating and implementing student retention strategies should be at the top of your marketing list, as more studies show that keeping a student coming back for more courses costs 5 to 7 times less than bringing in new course students through the sales funnel.

Questions must be asked around how students feel, and why they cannot complete the course, and it must be acknowledged that not all of these can be resolved by those who are educating. Many who enroll simply don’t realize the amount of time and course material that needs to be consumed, and simply drop off halfway through because of lack of time to dedicate to additional studies. Other studies also show that over ⅓ of students have reported that they didn’t intend on completing the course itself. They pick and choose specific content to study based on their personal goals.

That being said, it is imperative to know why your students are not completing your course, and know the pain points and signs of dropping off, so you can help guide them through all the content provided, and better yet, having found value in everything that you, the course creator, are teaching.

Here are 5 ways that the Archy Team has seen to improve your retention rates and keep your current students coming back for more courses.

1) Empathise from your students perspective
2) Be honest about time requirements for your course
3)Create engagement with gamification
4)Community-based learning
5)Be involved and available in the learning process

1. Empathise from your students perspective

One of the best qualities of any educator is empathy, or being able to feel or understand the place your student is in, and how to approach and teach from that perspective. When looking at your course completion rates, try understanding what part of the content has caused them to drop off, and look at improving it. Asking questions and sending out surveys to struggling students asking why there was a drop off can create valuable insights and help you tweak and improve your course content overall.

Look at things such as navigation, and the platform that you are using, is it easy and intuitive? Try accessing from the student portal yourself, and see from the perspective of the learner. Build your first course for free using a Learning Management System (LMS) with Archy Learning. This can provide valuable performance reports that can show completion rates and drop-offs with your students.

This can help you remove modules and track performance as it improves. It might be just a simple fix that is required for the course completion rate to skyrocket. Being open to change and putting yourself in your student’s shoes will help you adjust the content quickly and be able to monitor the progress.

2. Be honest about time requirements for your course

There needs to be clarity and expectations laid out for your students on how difficult the course content will be and how long it will take to fully complete. Some online learning courses are only an hour, and others could take weeks, and both are fine as long as the student is aware of this before beginning their studies.

Part of your marketing and sales strategy should include prerequisites and length, of course, to properly be able to identify the right audience that will see it through to the end. This will help keep your completion rates high, and students satisfied with their experience.

Set clear expectations and objectives as well, to maintain retention rates, and keep your students motivated. Distance learning can be incredibly demotivating, so providing clear guidelines will definitely help. Create milestones and help keep students encouraged about their progress and results, no matter where they are in the world.

3. Create engagement with gamification

Engagement levels can drop throughout long courses, and the online learning experience can be overwhelmed with the amount of content required, and then opt-out completely.

It is important to keep them engaged and motivated throughout the process, and the most effective way to do this is via gamification. Gamification is the addition of game elements to non-game activities, and this definitely includes your online course!

A few gamification strategies to include are:

  • 1) Points and Badges to award completion rates of your students
    2) Leaderboards for quizzes and course competitions to create a fun competition
    3) Mini-games to break up course content, as well as reinforcing learnings
    4) Feedback and acknowledgment, to encourage your students along their learning pathway. 

Make sure you work on creating excitement around completing the course content as well, creating and congratulating and rewarding online learners to help them stay motivated and encouraged during their journey.

Further engagement strategies include providing course content in different formats, such as video, audio, quizzes, as well as mini-games. This will create a fun learning pathway your students are sure to complete and then spread the word with others who would be interested.

4. Community based learning 

With the worldwide pandemic and online and distance learning now not only an option, but the only way students were able to access learning, isolation became a problem, and student motivation levels dropped in the process. This led to many students not completing courses, and drop-off rates soared.

You as the instructor and the creator of your online course can help resolve this by creating support groups and social networks for your students to gather and discuss content, as well as motivate and encourage each other around the course completion.

Creating fun group activities and online hangouts and chat groups will help create accountability and encourage communication amongst the learners. Those who are struggling can reach out and be helped as well as motivated to continue and finish.

Creating importance and inclusivity around the community and learning environment will be incredibly valuable for your learners, and will help better the entire experience for them. Ensure these spaces are safe, and students can speak up and ask questions on the content, and be accepted for where they are in the learning journey.

5. Be involved in the learning process

Now more than ever it is important for brands, companies, and entrepreneurs to be transparent about the vision, values, and build a community around their products and services. Online courses are no exception to this. Your students are coming to you for skills and knowledge, and it is important that you stay in touch with them and provide a personalized experience across their entire learning journey.

Ensure that you are accessible and contactable, having a support team in place if needed, and able to be reached and communicated to via email and social media. Be responsive, answer questions, and provide feedback. Encourage your students to engage across your social media posts and discuss what they are learning, and how they think your content can improve.

If there are students who are particularly struggling with drop-off rates and completing content, have automation and reach out to emails offering help and guidance.

Ensure that completions are noticed and celebrated and that drop-offs are reached out to as well. Create a safe environment to chat through learning difficulties and help guide them towards success. This will increase retention, engagement, and overall completion rates.


The steady growth of revenue from your online course should not only include acquiring new students, but ensuring your current student base is successfully completing the content, and having a great experience doing so. Ensuring these 5 steps will help your online course succeed and grow! You can check out more content just like this here.

John Shannon

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