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Many universities don’t know their online course completion rates

According to a recent survey on online courses, many universities still build their courses themselves, but don't measure the completion.


Many North American universities have started implementing standards or best practices for their online courses, but many of them don’t know their course completion rates. These were two of the findings from a recent survey conducted by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), in partnership with BCcampus, Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, and eCampusAlberta.

The survey, “Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in ensuring quality” (PDF) is part of an ongoing effort by the WCET to implement best practices when dealing with online courses. The results were released in December 2013.

As online courses are now a part of mainstream higher education, the report indicates that it is encouraging to see that more than 85 percent of responding institutions have implemented some form of standards or best practices in their online courses. The most popular options were standards that were created by third parties, like Quality Matters, or by states or provinces like those created by eCampusAlberta.

“These are often guidelines that are based upon joint research and agreement across institutions working together in a public system and, therefore, have much local buy-in,” the report stated.

However, institutions struggled with the question of course completion. Sixty-five percent were unable to provide an on-campus rate and 55 percent could not report on their online completion rates.

“We hope that all universities will see this and start to measure these outcomes,” says Russell Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis at WCET. “One great reason to measure completion rates is to show the relative success of online courses when compared to the low retention rates of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).”

Another surprising result from the survey is that the majority of institutions still build their online courses themselves, instead of relying on open source or commercial content. Those in online education have many options for developing and adapting content for their courses, the report stated. “In future years, as alternative types of content become more abundant, it will be interesting to see if there is greater adoption of those resources.”

The survey, conducted in April 2013 was sent to all of the members of the WCET as well as all of the members of its partners. The majority of responses were from the U.S. Canadian institutions represented eight percent of respondents. The WCET and its partners hope to put out some best practices that its members will be able to use to start making improvements to its online courses.

eCampusAlberta is a portal for online courses in Alberta. BCcampus is a consortium that provides educational technology and distance learning services to B.C. institutions.

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  1. London Management Centre / November 12, 2015 at 08:00

    This is quite a worry article to read, albeit it’s outdated now, they best sort these issues because it’s a kick in the face for the online courses industry. If it really wants to take off and compete against face to face it has to have credibility and a solid structure to it’s systems.
    Face to face qualifications still have more of a reputation than online course qualifications in terms of getting employed and if they wish to fix this. They have to fix these issues.