apple When Learners Drop Out

Community Literacy of Ontario started off this training module by noting that research shows that there is a consistently high drop-out rate from adult literacy programs in Canada and internationally.

This means that despite your very best efforts at retention, some adults will inevitably drop out of your literacy agency. As Community Literacy of Ontario noted at the beginning of this training module, the reasons adults choose to enroll in literacy programs and the motivations they bring with them are multiple and varied. So are their reasons for leaving. If you have worked hard to build a quality program, encouraged and supported learners to the best of your ability and tried your best to minimize the barriers, you will just have to accept that some learners will still leave. When this happens, don’t judge. Offer your understanding and support, and let learners know that the door is open for them to return.


ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” research found that many adult students who drop out (over three-quarters of those who left their literacy program) said that they were interested in re-enrolling in a literacy program at a later date.

Ask learners who are thinking of quitting to let you know upfront if possible, rather than just not coming one day. If this issue gets talked about ahead of time, it may be easier for the learner to return to the program one day, at a time that better suits their needs. As much as possible, try to maintain open communication with adults who have left your program and encourage them to keep in touch with the agency. For example, invite adults who have left the program to come to holiday celebrations and agency social events.

If the student is interested, develop a return strategy with them. For example, if the learner agrees, offer to call him or her on a regular basis to see how things are going. You should be following up at three and six months after exit anyway, so you can also use this opportunity to ask if he or she might be ready to return.

Exit Requirements

Literacy and Basic Skills agencies in Ontario are required by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to collect information that reflects each learner’s status at exit and/or the reason for leaving. Agencies are also required to conduct a learner satisfaction survey at exit with learners who have met their goals. The Learner Satisfaction Survey is part of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and University’s Continuous Improvement Performance Management System. Literacy agencies must ask all learners who exit the program (except those who left immediately after assessment) to complete the survey upon exit or as soon as possible after the exit. You can learn more about MTCU requirements at exit here:

In the Learner Satisfaction Survey, agencies are required to ask about progress, learning activities, hours of operations and overall satisfaction. However, if you want to know more about retention issues, just add another question or two to the satisfaction survey.

For example, you could ask additional questions such as these:

  • How could we have better supported you to learn?
  • Were there any program changes we could have made to help you to stay?
  • What did you enjoy about being in the program? What didn’t you like so much?
  • Although you are leaving the program now, do you think you might like to return? If so, what would make it easier for you to return?

Community Literacy of Ontario has an excellent training module on Literacy Basics on “Learner Exit and Follow-up” that further explores these issues:

More on Exit

Try to keep track of the main reasons adult learners give for leaving your program. Perhaps there are common issues (for example, dissatisfaction with learning materials or approaches; dissatisfaction with program location or hours of instruction; or dissatisfaction with a lack of flexibility to attend appointments or conduct a job search). Some things may be beyond your control to change, but having an honest look at the main reasons students leave may help you to make improvements to your literacy agency.

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. Although some learners will always leave programs, how do you think you can reduce the numbers of those who drop out?
  2. How could you encourage students who are thinking of leaving to let you know in advance?
  3. How do you (or how could you) develop a return strategy with learners?
Print Friendly