Cocooning is the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world — Faith Popcorn (1991). Hence, people seek haven through their home. This is one of the many reasons for the popularity of distance learning.
David Attenborough (1979) wrote, “Man's passion to communicate and to receive communication seems as central to his success as a species as the fin was to the fish or the feather to the birds.”
This passion to communicate is both a socializing and a learning process. The power of internet social media tools, such as, chat, email, blogs, microblogs, and discussion lists, aid us in our quest to communicate, while at the same time allowing us to cocoon. But no matter how much we want to remain in the comfort of our home, our need for discovery and socializing in face-to-face environments brings us out into the world. Indeed, while there is always going to be a place for elearning, conventional learning will always be with us.
Nowadays, elearning, especially just-in-time learning, has better technologies for delivering video, audio content, and live discussions to the worker's computers, notebooks, and iPods. Thus, as these technologies improve, the advantages of face-to-face meetings will lessen.
The University of Phoenix has managed to achieve a 65% completion (graduation) rate with their online courses by using small class sizes, plenty of interaction with the professor and other students, and around-the-clock support. While that number might seem low, completion rates at traditional colleges seem to run around 71% (note that the numbers vary as various studies use slightly different methodologies).
One study found that when students transferred with 10 or fewer credits, only 38% of them would go on to complete their program. Many of the students who start online degree programs do so after trying the more traditional college classes. Thus, it seems that they are already at a statically disadvantage when it comes to completing their online course. That is, if they are likely to drop out in a traditional program, what makes us think that they will complete an online program?
The completion rate for corporate classroom training runs about 97%, while corporate elearning completion rate is around 30% to 64%, depending on the source (Flood, 2002; Frankola, 2001). While part of the reason for the low completion rate is that a lot of the material is just plain boring, another factor would be that a lot of the material is just not needed. When someone attends training, it is expected that they are going to use what was learned. So when learners do not complete their online class, does that mean that they are then sent to the classroom so that they can learn what they need, or is the high drop-out rate simply brushed off because the class was not really needed in the first place? This is why it is important to ensure the analysis is performed correctly.
Learning methodologies that facilitate the learners are significantly more likely to have students who take a deep approach to learning and become intrinsically involved by searching for personal meaning in their various learning activities. Where as a knowledge-transmission approach (e.g., put some text online) is more likely to have students who take a shallow approach to learning and simply concentrate on memorizing content that is likely to be tested. While you can probably get away with the knowledge-transmission approach in a class that allows social interaction with others, an online course that employs this is more than likely going to bore them out of their minds, thus they simply drop out. This phenomenon has a lot to do with mindless-reading — if you are intrinsically motivated to do something then you are going to block interruptions out; if you have no deep interest in an activity then you are more likely to invite interruptions, even if it is only daydreaming.
Questions about the validity of much of this reporting have been raised as it is argued that statistics on retention and drop outs are, at best, fragmented, do not compare like with like, and are either unreliable and/or misleading (Wang, et. al., 2003). However, it is interesting to note that in traditional classroom-based teaching, the overall drop out rates for undergraduates in US higher education is reported at between 40 and 45%. This has been fairly consistent for most of the last century (Tinto, 1982 in Berge & Huang, 2004).
Attenborough, D. (1979). Life on Earth: A Natural History. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, (p. 308).
Berge, Z. & Huang, Y. (2004). A Model for Sustainable Student Retention: A Holistic Perspective on the Student Dropout Problem with Special Attention to e-Learning. DEOSNEWS, Volume 13 (5). Retrieved November 1, 2007 from http://www.ed.psu.edu/acsde/deos/deosnews/deosnews13_5.pdf
Frankola, K. (2001). Why online learners dropout. Workforce, October 10, 53-63.
Flood, J. (2002), Read all about it: online learning facing 80 percent attrition rates. The Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, April, Vol. 3 No.2, pp.1-4.
Popcorn, F. (1991). The Popcorn Report: Faith Popcorn on the Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life. New York: Doubleday.
Tinto, V. (1982). Limits of theory and practice in student attrition. Journal of Higher Education, 53 (6): p.687-700.
Wang, G., Foucar-Szocki, D., Griffen, O., O'Connor, C., Sceiford, E. (2003) Departure, Abandonment, and Dropout of E-learning: Dilemma and Solutions James Madison University. Retrieved November, 1, 2007 from http://www.masie.com/researchgrants/2003/JMU_Final_Report.pdf