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Personalised and Impactful Student Support for the Online Student

07 July, 2021 | by Sue Kokonis

The success of a student can be impacted by a range of external factors; from challenging personal circumstances, to competing work priorities or family commitments.

These impacts are particularly pertinent for mature age students undertaking online study, who are often juggling more responsibility outside of university and, as such, may be less involved in university culture and face additional challenges keeping up with the demands of undertaking a university degree.

It’s therefore unsurprising that this group is also more likely to experience a lower sense of belonging to the university and less likely to seek support when needed, with research suggesting that mature age students studying online are almost twice as likely to abandon their studies as younger counterparts completing their studies on campus.

OES conducted research to understand how we could strengthen retention outcomes for this cohort, by providing personalised support to students. This resulted in a pilot program implementing evidence-based approaches such as early intervention and ‘teacher-presence’ at specific times, trialed in selected undergraduate units across multiple teaching periods.

Taking a data-driven approach

The program took a multifaceted approach, combining analytics, technology and teaching practices.

Hundreds of data points per student were collated, interrogated and analysed by our analytics team in order to establish which metrics were the most likely indicators of student engagement. These metrics were then used to build a propensity model that identified the critical metrics which impact engagement, as well as the behaviours indicating which students were most at risk of dropping out.

A bespoke student engagement dashboard was designed and embedded into the existing Learning Management System, which allows teachers to view a student’s risk profile.

Our teaching and support staff were provided with training which empowered them to identify which students were most at risk and would benefit from direct personal contact. The most appropriate channel of communication could then be chosen (email, SMS or direct message within the online classroom), followed by contact with the student, implementing communication exemplars underpinned by motivational theory and student retention research.

As our teaching staff provided feedback throughout the study period, the engagement dashboard was updated.

Securing tangible outcomes

In each trial, approximately a quarter of students were identified as being high risk and therefore candidates for further support. Overall, on average there was a 9% increase in pass rates and a 7% increase in students progressing into their next study period.

The successful results reaffirm the importance of undertaking targeted research to find purposeful solutions that improve student experience and outcomes. This research demonstrates that by providing the right support at the right time, we can make a significant and positive difference to our students’ learning, ultimately strengthening retention amongst at-risk groups.

Learning analytics is a powerful tool when it comes to achieving course quality and student retention objectives. With a decade of end-to-end collaboration with numerous higher education partners, OES has a deep understanding of learning analytics and how to strategically use data insights to improve every aspect of the student experience. Learn more about Customised Learning Analytics.