Why Are So Many Students Still Failing Online?
Online learning has become the third rail in American higher-education politics: Step on it and you’re toast.
That’s especially true at community colleges, where many leaders have embraced online courses with an almost religious fervor. And we all know why. It’s not because anyone is seriously arguing that online classes are consistently better than the face-to-face versions. And it’s not even necessarily because students are clamoring for them (although they’re clearly popular in certain segments of the population, such as stay-at-home parents, people with full-time jobs, and deployed members of the armed forces). It’s because colleges can produce online courses much more cheaply while charging roughly the same tuition.
In other words, at many community colleges, online classes constitute the proverbial cash cow. And if you say anything about them—other than that we should offer more and more, forever and ever, virtual worlds without end, amen—then you will be branded as a heretic, ridiculed as a neo-Luddite, and shunned.
At least it sometimes seems that way. But isn’t it time that we had an honest national conversation about online learning? With countless studies showing success rates in online courses of only 50 per cent—as opposed to 70-to-75 percent for comparable face-to-face classes— isn’t it time we asked ourselves some serious questions? Such as: Should every course be taught online? And should we allow every student—or any student who wishes to—to take online courses?
I’m all for discussions on the improvement of education, both online and off-line. However, this piece is just a mess. What is the real message here? Please, tell me. The title is about why “so many” are failing in online courses, but the content doesn’t really support this. The content leans toward the observation that not all classes can or should be taught online, but the support for this is so poor I just can’t believe that the Chronicle is publishing it.
I think it is pretty obvious that not all classes should be taught online (at this time). There are many classes that require interactions with tools, objects, and individuals in ways that cannot be done well in online spaces, even with an excellent virtual replacement. The real discussion here should have been about the design of quality courses, which the author seems to probe lightly at parts in the article. The problem is that he primarily holds the face-to-face version of a course as the model to aspire to. I’m sure that this is not his real intent, but is does come off that way in the article. Face-to-face courses can be just as bad as the worst online courses. I’ve been in many myself in my many years of schooling. I hope I haven’t taught any of them 🙂
Whenever anyone talk about a poorly designed and/or taught online course and then generalizes to online education as a whole, I cringe. These are folks who would chastise you for generalizing research finding on a single subject to a population, yet they are doing the same here. The reality is that in the rush to put courses online, many organizations have not done quality control and have not provided adequate support for not only translating a face-to-face course online, but more importantly to interpret what that face-to-face course SHOULD look like online.
I’m not going to ramble any longer here. I really thought we were beyond these types of articles. It’s time to move the discussion to more important matters.