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Look Who’s Talking: Online Education Success Factors & Metrics

The growth of online education has been steady over the past decade, with more and more colleges offering online learning for both traditional and nontraditional students. However, since online learning is still relatively new, professors and administrators are still working out how to measure and establish its success. What is it that makes one student succeed in an online setting when another fails? How can educators design online courses and programs to ensure success for the highest number of students, such that students not only report being satisfied with their learning experience, but recommend it to others, and even go on to be promoters of online education as they pursue success in their chosen fields. The positive outcomes that online programs aim to affect, such as job placement, high scores on relevant certification exams, and overall satisfying career trajectories, can have a measurable positive impact on those programs as well as the students they graduate.

Although online learning is still developing, having been around for only a fraction of the time that more established teaching methods have, it is possible to look at existing data to get a better sense of the answers to these questions. Luckily there are a number of researchers and academics who have taken the time to look at existing online courses and programs, and determine what makes one more successful than another.

While online institutions and administrators have yet to come to a complete consensus about which indicators will predict student success in an online environment, it has been a topic of discussion. Dr. Susan Aldridge, President of Drexel University Online, recently offered a list of four key indicators of success as follows:

  • Readiness
  • Engagement
  • Persistence
  • Satisfaction

Dr. Aldridge has found that when these factors align for students, they are more likely to experience “greater academic and professional success.”

Persistence and satisfaction are two indicators that have earned traction in different institutions. The rate at which students continue to enroll in more courses, coupled with their overall satisfaction with the experience, can be essential factors in predicting whether those students will have the short and long term outcomes for which these institutions strive.

The nature of the institution itself can also influence how success is measured. Online program administrators at community colleges, for example, will likely place high importance on the rates at which students enroll in four-year colleges or universities, while those four-year institutions will have success metrics that are more focused on graduation and employment.

The following experts have all established themselves as important voices in online education research, either through academic publication or other available research. We have chosen to highlight these particular individuals for their work in determining what makes an online course — and the students that enroll in it — ultimately successful.

Meet the Experts