By Sarah Hokanson
Bottom-Line First: For a web-based relationship education program, having video-call interactions with coaches can substantially improve program completion rates.
The internet is an essential tool for getting relationship education to more people. Web-based interventions can help educators reach populations that may not normally be accessible, and they can be more convenient for the participants, as they can be done wherever and whenever individuals desire.
A recent study looks at the OurRelationship program, a web-based couple intervention program. Previous blog posts have reviewed research on this program’s short-term effects and long-term effects. These findings suggest that the online program can have significant effects on participants. This new research adds an important element to the equation by looking at how live contact with a coach impacts the completion of the program.
Generally, couples will complete online programs by themselves, but some programs provide coaches. Trained coaches periodically call participants to help with the learning process. Coaches can help participants by discussing goals, building participants’ confidence, and identifying the benefits of specific tasks in the program.
A major problem with online family life education courses, however, has been low completion rates. While the barriers to program entrance are low with online education, this also means that barriers to leaving are low. Other studies have suggested that having support and accountability provided by live coaching could improve completion rates of participants.
For the present study, there were three groups of participants: a control group of 529 couples who participated in the online program but had no coach support, a low-support group of 179 couples who participated in the same program but also had one video call from a coach, and a high-support group of 177 couples who participated in the program and received four video calls from the coach.
The researchers wanted to investigate two main questions. First, they wanted to know if the differences in coaching would be related to a difference in completion rates between the groups. Second, they wanted to know what factors would moderate the relationship between coach support and program completion.
What did they find?
- There were dramatic differences in completion rates for the different groups:
– the control group had a 6% completion rate
– the low-support group had a 36% completion rate
– the high-support group had a 66% completion rate.
- The researchers found few of the demographic, relationship, and mental health factors that impacted the relationship between coaching and completion.
What is the implication of this study?
- Make use of coaches with online programs. Coaching for online program participants substantially boosts completion rates. And coaching increased the completion rate of participants in all demographic groups and regardless of their mental health status. When participants had someone to remind them to continue the program and to help them with any of their questions, they were more likely to finish. Providing coaching or some sort of live human interaction in our online relationship education programs will make the interventions more effective.
Of course, coaching contacts take resources. So, in cases where it is not possible, automated reminders also may be a helpful way to support participants. Although these were not specifically tested in this study, emails, texts, or other forms of automated communication could be used to help increase the retention in web-based relationship education courses.
 Rothman, K., Roddy, M. K., & Doss, B. D. (2019). Completion of a stand‐alone versus coach‐supported trial of a web‐based program for distressed relationships. Family Relations, 68, 375–389. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12378
 Hispanic participants had higher drop-out rates after coaching ended when compared with other participants. The researchers suggested that this might be explained by minority stress and mental health stigma faced by this population.