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Technology In Education: 10 Retention Tools in Higher Ed
Technology In Education: 10 Retention Tools in Higher Ed

Post-COVID, higher learning institutions are redefining what it means to teach and learn. On-campus learning moved to the cloud during COVID-19, leaving many learners behind. Many faculties have returned to on-campus learning, some hoping it will be business as usual. At the same time, other universities are experimenting with 'hybrid' approaches, upping the ante in what will be an increasingly technology-driven educational battleground. 

Student Engagement and Retention

Student retention and re-enrollment are as critical to institutional survival as academic excellence. Student engagement, a hard-to-measure factor that drives re-enrollment and retention ratesis central to this battle. Research shows many emerging technologies can improve engagement, student retention, and re-enrollment rates. For university administrators and educational technology leaders, leveraging tech-based strategies can bring educational and financial benefits. But where to start?

Ten Technologies And How They Help Keep Students Engaged

This post will explore ten ways institutions of higher learning leverage technology to improve student engagement, keep students enrolled, and help those who may have fallen through the cracks to reenroll and succeed. For the first generation to grow up with smartphones, these technologies may be the secret to keeping them engaged and enrolled.

Personalized Learning Paths And Assessments

Traditional educational models are heavily course-centric, often overlooking the nuanced learning needs of individual students. Tailoring learning experiences to fit each student through personalized learning paths best has gained acceptance for its potential to improve engagement and outcomes. Adaptive learning technologies like AI-driven content platforms include EdApp and Zavvy. First used in corporate training, these technologies analyze students' performance and offer a customized pathway through the material, encouraging mastery-based learning. This pathway model permits students to excel at their own pace, driving improvements in subject matter mastery according to tests conducted at the HarvardX massive open online course (MOOC) (Rosen, 2018). Educators can adapt the technology to analyze user behaviors to alert educators to those at risk of departing a course due to frustration or boredom (Rushkin et al. Educational Data Mining 10th Conference, 2017). More than mere time-savers, these tools prompt faculty interventions and highlight areas where institutional support services can assist (Adams, 2019).

Predictive Analytics for Early Intervention

Remember the old saw, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?' We've learned that it often applies in higher education. Predictive analytics technologies offer this 'ounce' to academic advisors and faculty. By factoring in a wide range of data – from attendance and online engagement with learning tools to personal circumstances and transcript data – these systems predict a student's likelihood of departure with surprising accuracy. The insights generated lead to targeted intervention strategies, such as additional tutoring, advising meetings, or adjustment of schedules. In the often-cited case of Georgia State University, this tech reduced the likelihood of students dropping out by 20% through early identification of at-risk students and tailored support measures (Brennmoen, 2017). 

Mobile Apps for Support Services

In a world where smartphones are ubiquitous, mobile applications cater to students' expectations for instant accessibility and support. On-the-go assistance through apps permits universities to wire everything from course registration and financial aid information to mental health resources and campus activities. This kind of digital access can significantly improve a student's daily life. Texas A&M's My Aggie Nation is a stellar example, offering over 500 services to students and faculty and focusing on simplifying interactions with critical university offices, all in real-time (Dulaney, 2020).

Online and Flexible Degree Programs

For students juggling work, family, and other commitments, a traditional, fixed semester schedule may be an inflexible barrier to re-enrollment. Online and flexible degree programs enable such students to continue their education seamlessly. Technologies supporting these programs provide virtual simulations, on-demand coursework, and real-world learning experiences, catering to non-traditional students' needs and creating an environment where students feel they can succeed despite the complexities of their lives. (Picciano, 2017). Increasingly, online learning faculties are allowing students to pass prior learning assessments (PLAs) -- usually for a fee -- by assembling a portfolio of prior work showing mastery of the course material. Examples of institutions that offer PLAs include the University of Southern New Hampshire, the University of Phoenix, and Colorado State Global, among many others.

Enhanced Online Learning Platforms

Platforms like BlackboardCanvas, and Brightspace/D2L Learning Management Systems (LMS) have evolved into interactive, community-building spaces rather than mere repositories for course materials. Interactive features include:

  • Real-time collaboration and discussion forums, as well as support for asynchronous learning.
  • Immediate electronic feedback on quizzes, labs, papers, and other submissions.
  • Integrated spell-checking, grammar, and plagiarism testing.
  • Group learning scenarios.
  • Automated messaging based on learner activities and benchmarks.

Research shows these tools help students feel better connected to learning (Junco, 2013). 

COVID-19 drove the rapid adoption of these platforms with its stay-at-home rules. Many educational institutions (like remote teaching leader Macquarie University in Australia) and other schools decided to retain these post-COVID, even as students returned to campus. (Managing post-COVID-19 Uncertainties: Blended Learning in a Nutshell, 2020). 

In the US, post-COVID, Stanford University and the University of Michigan balanced traditional classroom settings with digital interaction. Stanford University quickly pivoted to hybrid teaching by offering in-person sessions and digitally mediated instruction, employing advanced video conferencing technology for synchronous sessions and a suite of web-based platforms for asynchronous learning (Blended and Hybrid Teaching Guide, n.d.). 

The University of Michigan successfully executed a comprehensive hybrid strategy by incorporating learning spaces designed for collaboration and digital connectivity. Facilitators integrated discussion boards and collaborative software to encourage continued interaction beyond classroom hours, ensuring an accessible learning environment for all students (The Hybrid Campus | Deloitte, 2021).


Gamification can be a powerful tool, allowing educators to enrich content and enhance student experience. Bentley University's Agile Mindset, combined with the Chemagic platform, offers a responsive simulation of lab experiments with instant feedback, adding an element of skill-building and risk-free trial and error in learning (Smith, 2023). Such simulations help understand complex theoretical concepts and improve retention by allowing students to learn through experience and interaction. The University of Mary Washington incorporates a system where students earn badges for completing tasks, each representing a specific skill set. The badging system has been particularly successful in liberal arts disciplines that require practical applications of knowledge, fostering a more holistic and in-depth learning experience (Johnson, 2020). Research has shown that the gamification software Kahoot, for example, has improved learning outcomes and engagement for students studied (Tan et al., 2018). 

Virtual Mentoring and Tutoring

Building a relationship with a mentor or tutor can be transformative for a student—academic support is often most effective when it's personal. Virtual mentoring and tutoring technologies enable these critical support relationships to form, regardless of proximity. From platforms like Teams or Zoom that connect students with peer tutors to robust systems like ConexEd that offer face-to-face virtual advising and messaging with faculty or professional mentors, these technologies provide the human element within a digitally enriched framework. (Bentley et al., 2013). 

Data-Driven Advising Tools

Effective academic advising is essential to student success, and data-driven advising tools provide advisors with predictive and prescriptive data that can guide their practice. Technologies like DegreeWorks and EAB's Navigate offer advisors a 360-degree view of a student's academic journey, allowing for more informed, personalized, and timely guidance, which can be the difference between a student's departure and persistence to graduation (Habley, W. R. 2003). 

Institutions as diverse as Liberty UniversitySouthern New Hampshire University, the University of Colorado, and Texas A&M University have integrated online advisor meetings into their student support framework. In a comprehensive analysis, Perez et al. (2021) found that such meetings allowed in-depth discussions critical for student success. Moreover, the convenience and privacy of online meet-ups appealed to non-traditional learners. See the report by Wharton and Steiner (2020). 

Student Collaboration

Community and Peer Learning Platforms

Universities can also use technology to foster networks and communities. Students often learn as much from other learners as from faculty or textbooks. These learning environments also combat the often isolating effects of higher education. Platforms like Piazza and Slack facilitate peer-to-peer and community learning. Faculty can set up channels or conversations that allow students to interact on a topic, thus replacing the cascade of student emails with a wiki or chat-like experience. Proponents say such systems help reduce the sense of isolation in online learning and tap into the collective intelligence of the student body. Oregon State University, Yale, New York University, and the University of Southern California use the Slack system to make communication easier (Slack, 2020). These spaces can also extend beyond the confines of a particular class or degree, promoting engagement that transcends traditional boundaries. These learning environments can be invaluable for prospective and returning students and even drive alumni engagement (Bianchi, 2021). 

Streamlined Assessment Leveraging AI

From teaching adult learners in college and university classes as an Adjunct Professor, I know that the quality of student feedback drives improved engagement. For example, "You are having trouble with noun-verb accordance," along with several examples from the student's writing (the dog bark should be the dog barks) is infinitely more helpful than a marginal note saying, "Grammar needs improvement." 

AI is now stepping in to help faculty affordably generate better, more fair, and more rapid assessments. One example is Turnitin's Gradescope. The assessment technology streamlines the grading process for professors and offers more nuanced student insights. As students upload papers and coding assignments to the platform, Gradescope's AI groups responses and helps instructors grade quickly and consistently, with the ability to share feedback in situations where common mistakes occur. For students, there is better and more detailed feedback on partial credit answers. The system automatically links points assigned to comments explaining what the student did correctly or incorrectly. The cloud-based storage of submissions helps even the most disorganized student keep track of their work. The quality of feedback a student receives is superior to what they could get from hand-written comments by a TA (Gradescope, 2021). Rapid, electronic return of graded assignments to students permits the feedback to turn into learning gains and allows students to move toward mastery. Dartmouth, Wharton, UC Davis, and Perdue are among the institutions that have offered this tool to faculty.

'No Silver Bullets Here'

Technology is never a silver bullet, but its potential to design interventions and experiences based on personalized feedback can help students immensely. The research we have shared here shows that educational technologies can drive improvement through predictive early warning systems, increased student engagement, or community-building in learning. It is clear that when implemented thoughtfully, technology can be one of the most potent tools in the retention arsenal of a higher education institution. By investing in these types of tech (and the necessary training to use them effectively), colleges and universities can ensure that their students not only enroll but persist, succeed, and reenroll. This can lead to a richer, more dynamic academic ecosystem that benefits all involved. When deciding which project to prioritize, pick the low-hanging fruit first for retention improvement, then move on to more complex executions.

Remember that adopting these solutions must be based on a deep understanding of your institution's unique culture and the experiences of your student population. What works in Boston or Palo Alto may not work in Louisiana. Let pilot programs be your guide. Always test new students for technology literacy and ensure student and faculty onboarding is included with the rollout of these systems. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to retention, so administrators should apply a tailored mix of these technologies, informed by ongoing testing, assessment, and feedback.


Adams, B. (2019). Personalized Learning in Higher Education: The Next Generation of Online Learning. EDUCAUSE Review.

Bentley, Y., Comer, D. R., Supiano, B G., & Haythornthwaite, C. (2013). A Community of Practice: Virtual Mentoring in Higher Education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

Bianchi, A. C. (2021). Community of Inquiry Framework in Online Learning: A Social Presence Perspective. IGI Global.

Blended and Hybrid Teaching Guide. (n.d.). Teaching

Brennmoen, R. (2017). Using Predictive Analytics to Increase Student Retention and Graduation Rates. Journal of Research on Technology in Education.

Dulaney, A. (2020). Designing a mobile experience that improves student retention. University Business.

Gradescope. (2021, December 12). 10 Ways Gradescope Helps improve teaching and learning. Medium

Habley, W. R. (2003). The Status of Academic Advising: Findings from the ACT Sixth National Survey. NACADA Journal.

Johnson, R. D. (2020). Gamified Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study at Bentley University. New York: Springer.

Junco, R., Elavsky, C. M., & Heiberger, G. (2013). Putting Twitter to the test: Assessing student collaboration, engagement and success outcomes. British Journal of Educational Technology.

Managing post-COVID19 uncertainties: Blended learning in a nutshell. (2020, June 20). Macquarie University.

Perez, J., et al. (2021). Virtual academic advising: Crafting an experience for students during COVID-19. Journal of College Academic Support, 6(4), 42-51.

Picciano, A. G. (2017). Online education: Foundations, planning, and pedagogy. Routledge.

Rosen, Y. (2018, April 26). Harvard-Microsoft open source adaptive learning engine: From black box to experimental framework

Rushkin, I. & Educational Data Mining. (2017). Adaptive Assessment Experiment in a HarvardX MOOC. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Educational Data MiningPaper 167

Slack. (2020, March). Distance learning thrives in Slack. Slack.

Smith, J. (2023). The Impact of University Gamification on Student Engagement. Journal of Educational Technology, 13(2), 45-58.

Tan, Debbita & Ganapathy, Malini & Mehar Singh, Manjet Kaur. (2018). Kahoot! It: Gamification in Higher Education. Pertanika Journal of Social Science and Humanities. 26. 565-582. 

The hybrid campus | Deloitte. (2021, January 27). Deloitte Insights.

Wharton, C., & Steiner, J. (2020). The impact of synchronous, online academic advising meetings on college student satisfaction. Online Learning Journal, 36(5), 21-32.




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