E-Learning Blog: Leverage the LMS for Online Student Retention

by Kendi Judy

Online student retention is a constant concern amongst institutions. How can you ensure that your students are satisfied with course quality? Short answer: you can’t. What you can do is alleviate student frustration in the online environment with sound course design strategies. Sound design strategies engender better student satisfaction and commitment in the online learning environment.

Canvas Logo - Vertical/ColorOne suggestion is to leverage the Learning Management System (LMS) and design a course that if effective and efficient for student satisfaction. Course design ensures that students focus their time on course content, not course navigation. When students can easily navigate a course, they are more likely to remain engaged in the content. According to a recent study published in BloombergView, students of generation Z “have an 8 – second attention span” (Bershidsky). If students can’t quickly navigate a course they will become frustrated and disengage, quickly.

Let’s stop the student frustration and focus on 6 easy design tips that will engage and encourage student participation, focus and retention.

First Impressions

First impressions matter, especially in an online course. Use the Homepage to customize easy course access. Use an image; make it visually engaging and pleasing to the eye. Focus on a course “Start Here” or “Begin Here” button so students don’t become loss upon entry.

Figure 1: CC Canvas Course Collections

Figure 1: Course Home Page

Week-by-Week Access

A challenge in any online class is pace. How do you ensure that students don’t work too far ahead or fall behind? This is easier to do in a face-to-face course but can be just as easy in an online course if you organize your content by week or section in Canvas. Week-by-week access allows students to focus on the task at hand; they have a sense of what is ahead and a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished this week. It is organized in a list form and students can essentially work down the list in a straight and narrow path. The modules are the best way to ensure that students move forward in one direction at a designated pace.

Canvas Module Example

Figure 2: Canvas Module Example


Everyone likes feedback, including students. Students also like a clear explanation of when they can receive feedback. Make your course expectations, response time and feedback transparent. Address feedback response time in the course syllabus. A majority of students will understand and respect the course expectations. Instructors will benefit from this transparency when they’re not flooded with emails asking why they have not responded to an inquiry that was sent 2 hours ago.

To provide feedback try embracing technology features in Canvas. Canvas allows students and instructors to record short media comments instead of typing. Using the audio/video media comment tool in Canvas allows users to quickly record a response and provide instant feedback. Feedback then becomes personal, effective and efficient.

To learn more about the audio/media tool in Canvas visit the course guides here.

Allow Dialogue for Concern

Do you ever read your end of semester course evaluations and think “why didn’t he/she say something during the class?” If you evaluate your course and student perceptions, concerns and comments during the semester you can better address student needs before the semester is over.

One suggestion is to provide each student with an opportunity to give the instructors feedback at the end of each week, unit, module, etc. If you create an ungraded quiz or a quiz worth very little point value, your students might surprise you.  In the Canvas LMS you can even create anonymous surveys, ensuring to your students you genuinely want feedback: good and bad.

Student Feedback

Figure 3: Student Feedback

Encourage Collaboration

Building peer-to-peer relationships in an online course is not impossible if you have the tools. In face-to-face class settings, students have the opportunity to talk to each other before, after, or even during class. To foster relationship building in an online environment, encourage students to collaborate. If you’re feeling really ambitious, join in on the discussion.

Canvas provides students the opportunity to use Big Blue Button, never having to leave the course. Big Blue Button is a way to hold a virtual meeting, office hours, chat sessions and more.  Remember that students may not understand how to navigate the conference feature right away so provide them with the resources necessary to learn and engage on their own.

If conferences are not appealing to you or your students, encourage use of Google Hangout sessions or even Skype conference calls. The more engaged students are in the course; the more likely they will complete the course.

To learn more about conferences in canvas visit the guides here.

Monitor At-Risk Students

Regardless of how well a course is designed there may be those students who struggle in the online environment. Use the LMS technology to your advantage and monitor your student’s progress throughout the semester. Keep track of your students and see how frequently they interact with course content. Monitor which students turn in assignments on time and which ones don’t. Using the Canvas analytics feature will showcase student progress throughout the entire semester. Take advantage of the data and reach out to your at-risk students before they decide to drop or disengage with the course.

To read more about Canvas analytics you can visit the guides or read this previous blog post.

Keep in mind these are just tips. You do not have to use all of them, start small and pick one tip that you are interested in.  Evaluate your course and your learners; see if adopting one of the tips could make a difference. Good luck!

Until next time,

Kendi Judy

Read the BloombergView article on Generation Z.