Are Online Classes Hard In College – Online courses have the potential to enhance learning at any level of education. Adaptive online courses can allow students to learn at their own pace, with the material adapting to meet the needs of both advanced and remedial learners. Online courses can also open up more learning offerings in schools that lack specialists, such as those in rural areas.
Online courses are especially attractive to school and district leaders looking for ways to cut costs. Teacher salaries are the primary driver of instructional costs at any level of education, so any technology that allows a teacher to teach more students can free up funds that can be used for other purposes. Whether cost savings are achieved depends on production costs, which can be high for universities releasing their own digital content.
Are Online Classes Hard In College
Do online courses deliver on their promise? In a June 2017 Evidence Speaks publication, Stanford University’s Eric Bettinger and Susanna Loeb showed that at a large for-profit college, online courses are a poor option for the least prepared students.
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Online students did significantly worse than students in the same face-to-face course: they earned lower grades, were less likely to succeed in subsequent courses, and were more likely to drop out.
This is particularly bad news because students who enroll in online classes tend to face more challenges at first than their face-to-face peers: they are older, more likely to work full-time day and are more likely to be a single parent.
While online courses are certainly convenient for such non-traditional students, existing evidence suggests that they are not appropriate for those who are academically lagging behind their peers.
One survey cannot tell the full story of online learning. Does this finding replicate in other postsecondary settings? And what are its effects among younger students, such as juniors in middle and high school?
Most Teaching Is Going Remote. Will That Help Or Hurt Online Learning?
Maya Escueta and colleagues recently completed a comprehensive review of studies that measure the causal impact of online courses on learning and course access.
The review focused on papers that used randomized trials and cut-off regression designs, two approaches that allow us to be particularly sure that we are nailing down the causal effect of the online “treatment”. Although there are still questions to be answered and research to be done, the review shows progress in our understanding of which students benefit from online courses.
Online learning comes in two broad categories: purely online courses, in which the student is never in the same room with an instructor, and “blended courses,” in which students spend time in a physical classroom with an instructor as well as time online with how-to videos and digital content.
Overall, a wealth of research shows that learning suffers if face-to-face instruction is not provided. Students in blended courses seem to do about the same as those in fully attended courses. If a blended course frees up teachers’ time, that time can be diverted to additional courses or to extra attention to struggling students.
Pivoting To Remote Learning: Why It Is Harder In Some States Than Others
The research discussed above is mostly conducted in colleges. Two recent studies examined the effects of online learning among middle and high school students. The pattern of effects in these papers mirrors that of postsecondary findings. Both papers look at the effect of an online algebra class, but for very different populations.
The first article evaluates a program to expand access to algebra courses among middle school students in Maine and Vermont.
In small rural schools, there are relatively few specialized courses for students who work ahead of their class. The economics of small schools simply cannot support the range of specialist teachers that a large urban high school can. Therefore, the online format can open up curricular opportunities that would otherwise be denied to students.
In the assessment, eighth-grade students whose academic performance made them eligible for Algebra I and who attended schools that did not offer an eighth-grade algebra course were randomly selected and given this course in an online format. Students in the control group took their schools’ standard face-to-face general math course in eighth grade.
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Students taking the course online did significantly better on algebra knowledge scores at the end of eighth grade, scoring 0.4 standard deviations higher than students in the control group. This is a substantial effect, especially in a one-year intervention. Treated students were also twice as likely to complete advanced math courses in high school, competing in at least Algebra II by tenth grade (26 percent in the control group vs. 51 percent in the treatment group).
Note that this study tested a mixed treatment: exposure to Algebra I in eighth grade and enrollment in an online course, compared with exposure to general math in eighth grade in a face-to-face course. We cannot say which of these aspects of the treatment produced the effect we observed. The treated students may have learned even more if they studied algebra in a face-to-face course rather than online. Therefore, from a scientific point of view, the findings are somewhat unsatisfactory: we cannot separate these two channels of the treatment effect. From a policy perspective, however, the findings are quite encouraging: online math courses can provide productive learning for academically skilled eighth-grade adolescents who would otherwise not have access to this content in that grade.
The second study also tested the effect of online algebra, but on a very different population: high school students in Chicago who had already failed an in-person version of that math class.
In seventeen Chicago high schools, students who failed algebra were enrolled in a summer remedial course. After appearing for several classes, they were randomly assigned to an online or face-to-face format. In this case, students in online courses did significantly worse on end-of-course tests, scoring 0.2 standard deviations lower than students in face-to-face classes. Online students were significantly less likely to pass the course: 66 percent versus 78 percent.
Online Courses Are Harming The Students Who Need The Most Help
Two randomized trials of online courses among adolescents are not sufficient to determine policy. But when combined with postsecondary learning, a clear pattern emerges: students with academic problems do worse in online than in face-to-face courses. Existing evidence suggests that online coursework should focus on expanding course options or providing acceleration for students who are academically prepared, rather than supporting the performance of those who are lagging behind.
The author has not received any financial support from any company or person for this article or from any company or person with a financial or political interest in this article. She is not currently an officer, director or board member of any organization with an interest in this article. Of the many things that are uncertain about what American higher education will look like in the fall of 2020, one thing is not: online learning is here to stay. This does not mean that there will be no personal training. Regardless of whether they offer face-to-face learning or not, colleges will need to enable students to participate remotely. That’s true despite announcements from multiple colleges about plans to resume classes on campus in the fall.
Why? Because of the shrill “we’re open again!” announcements from some institutions notwithstanding, many, if not most, colleges will decide to keep all of their Fall 2020 instruction online. And even for those who do manage to welcome students back to campus, the new social distancing rules will significantly reduce classroom capacity. With classroom space at a premium even before the pandemic, once social distancing restrictions are in place, there is simply no way to provide in-person instruction to all students. Additionally, some students will be unwilling or unable to return to campus. The result is that, for the foreseeable future, the old way of doing business — where colleges could tell students they were required to be physically present on campus and in the classroom — isn’t coming back anytime soon.
As a result, in fall 2020 and likely well beyond, there will be two categories of courses: 1) courses where some of the students are in a classroom and some are online, and 2) courses offered exclusively online. Both formats pose major challenges to the higher education ecosystem.
Online College Classes Are Here To Stay. What Does That Mean For Higher Education?
The combination of in-person and online participation creates significant obstacles. While it is certainly possible to optimize teaching for in-person participation and it is also possible to optimize teaching for online delivery, it is not possible to optimize for both at the same time. When interacting with students in person in the classroom, the instructor can use a whole range of communication techniques that simply aren’t available online. These include making eye contact with individual students, observing facial expressions and body language, and adjusting the pace of the class accordingly.
A useful analogy can be found in the challenges that arise in a business meeting when some of the participants are sitting at a conference table and others are talking on the phone. Compared to people in the room, remote participants are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to engagement. This is why in the pre-pandemic world, people were so willing to spend time and expense traveling to distant cities to attend important business meetings.
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