Online Course Dropout: 4 Ways to Boost Your Completion Rate

We’ve all started things that we never finished. Books, a diet, a gym plan. We tend to get lazy or distracted from tasks that require some dedication and commitment. More often than not, we recognize that those tasks – if finished – would improve our lives. Yet, procrastination and slacking usually win. Online courses are one of those things we start and never finish. This article will explore how you can cut down your course dropout rate.

Dropout is very common in online courses. In fact, it is a nightmare for every online course creator. Studies have shown that online courses completion rate doesn’t exceed 40%. In other words, after you get people on board, you lose nearly 60% of your student along the way. Not cool, is it?

Online courses are one of those things that people start and fail to finish. They usually want to, but for some reason, they end up somewhere else.

Your job as a course creator is to make sure your students stick around till the end. First, because, losing students means losing money. Second, you don’t want all that amazing content you created go to waste. And third, if people finish your course, they’ll talk about it with other people. No one talks about a course they started and never completed. 

Why Do People Drop Out of Online Courses

Before figuring out how, you will need to understand why do people drop out from your online course. There are several reasons students leave. Here are the most common blockers that course creators have spotted:

  • No time – This is the main reason everyone starts but never finishes tasks. It’s difficult to put in place a new activity or habit into a routine. We all know that. If lacking organization and discipline, people end up not finding time for new activities.
  • They were not satisfied – A lot of the time, people are disappointed with the product they get. If the course content or format doesn’t match their expectations, they will leave.
  • Content is too complicated – If the course level doesn’t match the students’, they will fatally give up. An online course should be well adapted to its audience. And that in terms of complexity, and especially language. If students don’t understand what you’re talking about, they will drop out of your course.
  • Some other reasons include: content is too long, no tangible results, content is outdated, payment method, etc.

Online Course Dropout Reasons

Most of the time, the reason why students drop out is related to the specific course features and material. You can’t assume that one of these reasons is the problem behind your high churn rate. You will need to figure out what makes YOUR students turn away.

If you fail to pinpoint by yourself where exactly do you lose your students, ask them. Send out surveys, schedule some calls and ask for feedback. Sometimes, the problem is not the course itself. But you’ll have to know if it is the case and aim to fix it.

Why Do People Join Online Courses

Before discussing solutions, there’s another critical factor to consider. More important than why people leave the course, is why people join the course in the first place.

People join online courses for all sorts of reasons. Some enroll in courses for promotions at work, or for complete career changes. Others do it because their employer forced them to register. And another category buys the course only because it was on sale and it looked like a good deal.

It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone who enrolled in your course aspire for the same objectives. People have different goals, and hence different expectations for the course. So think about asking people about their expectations before they start the course.

You also need to attract the right audience for your course. The more quality student you have, the lower your online course dropout rate will be.

How to Cut Down Online Course Dropout Rate

After you’ve figured out why people quit your course, it’s easier to find a way to retain them. Here are a few ways you can cut down your online course dropout rate.

  1. Put in Place a Good On Boarding Plan

    This is a common problem with online courses. A lot of courses fail to properly onboard their students, and they end up losing them.

    An onboarding strategy is fundamental to embark people on your journey gradually. It prevents your students from getting confused or lost throughout the way. Make sure your onboarding process makes it easy for them to navigate through your course.

    Also, make it clear to your student that you are around if any blocker comes their way. They will feel supported and encouraged, and more inclined to keep going in the course.

  2. Celebrate Small Successes

    It’s essential that students feel that they’re achieving results from your course. Don’t wait till the end to congratulate them. A lot of people quit courses because they can’t feel their value on the spot. People need to see tangible outcomes of their effort.

    Also, make sure to include small rewards along the way to celebrate hard work and commitment. That will incentivize people to persevere.

    Also, consider including quizzes along the way not only at the end. That gives people a sense of accomplishment. That is very important to encourage people to move forward in the course.

  3. Build a Community around Your Course

    This is a vital element in any membership-based business. A community is crucial in making people feel supported and accompanied throughout the way. A Facebook group can work as an excellent platform for your student to meet and start a conversation.

    Ryan Deiss from the DigitalMarketer discussed in his interview on #Myfirst1000 the secrets behind successful membership sites. He testifies that through their experience they could spot a strong correlation between people’s engagement in Facebook groups and courses completion rate. The more people engage with the community, the more likely they are to complete the course.

    After getting responses form other tribe members, students feel more excited to progress in the course.

    You can join the movement and learn the best tips around building profitable membership sites here on #Myfirst1000. We help people make their first $1,000.

  4. Track Your Analytics and Adjust Accordingly

    Your numbers can be highly revealing of where people block in your course. Review your students progress in your course, and try to spot patterns. For instance, if a lot of people get stuck in a particular chapter, then that part is likely too confusing or too long. You might need to cut it short or make it less complicated.

    Watching your analytics will also help you understand how users interact with your platform. You can deduct how easy or complicated it is to navigate through your course or use your material.


It’s only human to start an online course and not finish it. If you spot a high online course dropout rate, don’t freak out. As mentioned earlier, dropouts are one of the biggest challenges of course creators. Yet, there are always strategies you can use to reduce the damages. And the first one is to know the incentives and motives of your students from joining the course.

Getting a 100% completion rate is near impossible. However, if you apply the strategies discussed earlier, you’ll be able to reduce your churn rate to a reasonable ratio. That should not discourage you from creating courses and continue bringing value to the online learning world.


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5 Comments on “Online Course Dropout: 4 Ways to Boost Your Completion Rate”

  1. Excellent post. Some good ideas on how to stop churn.

    For me its usually time issues that causes me to drop out! I once signed up for a well know Analytics course. Everyday I would receive an email to tell me what we were going to learn each day! At first I thought this was a nice touch – a daily email from the instructor. Oh how I came to hate those emails!! Little reminders that I wasn’t keeping up and had potentially wasted my money! I felt under a lot of pressure. Take note.

    Also, when I have left a service or course, I am always surprised at how easy it is to go or drop off. Very few tempting offers are made to entice me to stay or get back into it. I think we should try all we (ethically) can to keep our members. Maybe offer a reduced membership fee for a few months, or another ‘special offer’?

    1. Darran – GREAT point! I love daily email series – but if I am falling behind, these emails act like a bad reminder (you’ve made an astute observation, I will think about how vendors can do better here!) And I 100% agree with you about helping our members get great results. I will discuss this with my team.

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