Fergus Toolan and Angela O’Keeffe

Presentation Details:

Keeping them online: An initial study in retention strategies for mature online learners

Online learning has grown at a phenomenal rate in recent years. By 2017 almost one in three US college students were taking all, or part, of their degree programme through online means. The flexibility of online learning has attracted a more diverse student cohort than ever before. However retention, always a problem in higher education, is proving to be a greater problem in online learning than in traditional classroom learning. Estimates put the attrition rate six or seven times higher in the online environment than in the traditional classroom environment. This research has become even more important in 2020, with the majority of universities having to suddenly transition to online delivery during the Spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is uncertain when universities will be able to revert to more traditional teaching methods.

This research aims to gather the knowledge of a group of experienced online educators as it attempts to answer the following research questions: 1) To what extent are educators able to identify students who are in danger of exiting an online learning programme prematurely? and 2) what preventative measures are being used by educators to attempt to improve student retention in the online environment?

In answering these questions we propose a set of recommendations aimed at educators and institutions delivering online learning programmes which should improve student retention.


Fergus Toolan
Fergus Toolan is an Associate Professor in the Norwegian Police University College, a position he has held for six years. Prior to that Fergus was the programme director for UCD’s masters in Forensic Computing and Cybercrime Investigation. Fergus has been teaching almost exclusively in the online environment for over ten years. Fergus’ teaching now focuses on Digital Forensics and Cybercrime Investigation, but over the course of his career he has taught courses covering the spectrum of computer science from Discrete Mathematics to Artificial Intelligence and from software development to computer hardware. His research is concerned with file system forensics and the validation of digital forensic tools. Fergus has always been interested in the scholarship of teaching, having been on the original organising committee for the ICEP conference, and also publishing a number of papers in the area.”

Angela O’Keefe
Angela O’Keefe is a lecturer in Griffith College Dublin where she teaches across faculties primarily in the economics, mathematics and research disciplines. Angela has always been interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning and recently completed her EdD, graduating from Queens University Belfast in 2018. Her thesis explored the usefulness of technology in enhancing the

learning experience of first year college students. Angela has presented at ICEP over the years and is delighted to be invited back for this unique ICEP conference.