Five Reasons Why Students Drop Out of Online Classes

By Meg Foster

More students are choosing to complete academic programs online. While the good news is that students are reporting being highly satisfied with their online learning experience (D'Agostino, 2022), institutions continue to struggle to retain online learners, with some classes having as much as a 20 percent higher failure rate than those offered on campus. Read on for insights into how colleges and universities can address the challenges online learners face to better support their success.

  1. Financial Concerns: The number one reason online students stop attending is that they struggle to pay for college. Many online learners are working to provide for themselves or their families. Providing easy-to-access information about scholarships and the financial aid process is essential to supporting online learners. Help students to understand financial literacy and key topics, like budgeting, using short videos that can be integrated into advising conversations, online mentoring, or coaching. Connecting with students early regarding institutional financial resources can go a long way to retaining them.
  2. Academic Skill Gaps: Given the effects of pandemic learning, many faculty and staff are finding students lacking the skills needed to be successful in an online learning environment (Folts, 2023). Students need continued support to better understand how to take notes, study, and complete testing online. Using success workshops, like Taking Tests Online, can help students develop the skills necessary for academic success. These workshops can be utilized as class assignments; integrated into LMS templates; and referred to during meetings with academic advisors, tutors, and faculty. Addressing skills gaps provides students a strong foundation for academic success.
  3. Struggles to Balance Life and College: Too often, online learning has been depicted as something one can easily squeeze into a busy schedule; the reality is that online classes demand the same time and attention as on-campus classes. An orientation to online learning is a powerful tool for preparing students for the expectations of online learning. It also serves as a vehicle for introducing students to resources like time management strategies, stress management resources, and other tools that can help them find the right balance between the demands of life and school.
  4. Struggle Seeking Help: Research has shown that online students who are comfortable seeking help are academically successful and remain enrolled in online classes (Shaik & Asif, 2022). Institutions can address help-seeking behavior in multiple ways. First, use orientation as a place to introduce those staff (i.e., peer mentors, online tutors, online learning staff) and faculty who can support students. Students often need coaching to feel comfortable asking for help. Second, reiterate the importance of asking for assistance and explain how to do so through video messages during orientation.
  5. Locating Online Support Resources: Another reason students cite for dropping out of online academic programs is that they cannot easily find resources to support their success (Park & Choi, 2009). Address this concern from the very beginning by providing a thorough onboarding experience, including an orientation, for online students. Direct students to resources like online tutoring, peer mentoring, library resources, financial aid, academic coaching, and advising. Use videos to introduce students to the people who will support them and reiterate these messages through electronic newsletters, emails, and social media posts.

By addressing these five reasons that students drop out of online learning, institutions can improve student success and retention. OnlineLingo provides students with an orientation to prepare for success as online learners as well as twenty curated workshops to develop skills. Workshops address a variety of topics, from communicating online to taking tests in an online environment. Designed and facilitated by nationally recognized experts, institutions use OnlineLingo as a building block to student success and retention.

Check out our free trial to learn more about how OnlineLingo can support your students!


D'Agostino, S. (2022, September 14). The needs and preferences of fully online learners. Inside Higher Ed.

Folts, E. (2023, January 9). College students and professors contend with hangover from virtual high school. PublicSource.

Park, J.-H., & Choi, H. J. (2009). Factors influencing adult learners' decision to drop out or persist in online learning. Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 207-217.

Shaik, U., & Asif, Z. (2022, May 31). Persistence and dropout in higher online education: Review and categorization of factors. Frontiers in Psychology.

Meg Foster is Online Learning and Design Specialist, Innovative Educators.

Innovative Educators is a League partner and Innovations 2023 Leader Sponsor.

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, January 18, 2023