How to not drop out of an online course

Written by Asra Rizwan ·  3 min read >

How many times have you drooled over and enrolled into online courses, although never to finish them? Online courses have higher drop out rates as compared to physical academics. For each course, an average number of 30,000 – 50,000 students get enrolled, alarmingly only 10% make it to the finishing line. To help the statistics improve in favor of online courses, MIT researchers are carrying out a study to figure out why the vast majority of students is unable to complete these courses. The mobile generation is easily distracted and in most cases they lack time to complete the courses. To help you stay dedicated till the end of an online course, here are some pointers divided for two phases of any course: enrollment and participation.

How to assess the course before enrolling

Know the course

There is always abundant information provided on e-learning sites for each course and specialization. Read them profusely to determine the difficulty level and time commitment the course will require and the number of assignments and quizzes to be submitted. If you are aware of the commitment before blindly signing up for the course, you will find it easier to cope up with the course requirements. Also, ask for reviews in the forum and read about the feedback from previous students about the instructor, curriculum and presentation.

Test your aptitude

Skim through the section of FAQs to know the pre-requisites for the course. A lot of times beginners ambitiously enroll into courses with intermediate or expert level, later dropping out due to difficult requirements. Therefore, FAQs help you test your aptitude for the course you are signing up.

Question yourself

It can happen a lot of times that you are attracted to learn Chinese or you are an engineer who wants to learn about Finance and Accounting. There is no harm in having a diverse skill set, however in most of the cases it is seen that you are going to question yourself later, eventually failing to continue the course. Therefore, ask yourself before hitting the enroll button, whether leisure learning is your thing and you can give time to a course away from your domain.

Determine the value

You need to assess how the course accomplishment will impact your CV. Sign up for courses that complement your skill set. If you are a web developer, enroll to learn UI design. Know that a certificate from an international university, be it online, will make employers take you seriously. It will be easier for them to determine that you are a learner and will always be open to equip yourself with new skills.

How to participate, keeping the motivation alive

Time Management

A lot of e-learners that I talked to watch one video per day for the week’s content and complete their quizzes/assignments over the weekend. I, for instance, binge watch the videos, read the assignment description, brainstorm over a couple of days and then complete and submit it in one go. You need to assign a dedicated chunk of time, either over the weekend or everyday where you shut yourself from the distractions and watch the videos (just like you are going to do with this season of Game of Thrones).

Communicate in the forum

Coursera’s forum is one of the forums that are very active even before the course starts. Introduce yourself and what you aspire to achieve with the course. Interact and respond to other members’ posts. This will help you in courses that require peer reviews for grading assignments.

Never underestimate the course

Various times we undermine a course just because it is online. However, the same amount of efforts is invested to devise a curriculum just as for a semester course. As I mentioned, know the value of the course and also the difficulty level so you can progress constructively without hating yourself for dropping out.

Follow the deadline

Some courses at Coursera have deadlines that spans over the complete timeline of the course, however that does not mean you submit all the assignments together. When you submit timely, you can get your assignments graded by peers that will eventually determine your final grade. For weekly deadlines, manage your time in a way that you submit them a day before, unlike me who submits them just an hour before!

Reward yourself

You usually get a weekly grade within two or three days after submitting the assignment. The grade usually comes with a feedback and take my word, it will definitely make you strive harder and invest more efforts. After each weekly grade, make a promise to reward yourself. Buy a book, get new earphones, have ice-cream, anything that can keep you going!

Be proud of yourself

After weeks of constant hard work, combating distraction, motivating yourself to learn, the moment of truth will arrive. When you will get the certificate of accomplishment the feeling will be surreal! In this moment, be proud of yourself and know that you have fought all odds not to drop out. Even Coursera knows, how hard it has been:


These guidelines are not set in stone, and can work differently for each person. If you follow these and are able to stick to the completion of the course, you will be much more motivated to sign up for online courses one after another.

Written by Asra Rizwan
I profile people and startups contributing to the Pakistani technology entrepreneurial ecosystem. Share a story with me, Profile