New York Times Editorial Takes a Shot at Online Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York  Times in its editorial today takes a strong stance against poorly designed online courses.  Citing research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, it comments on the abysmal student attrition rates of some online courses:

“First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed….

A five-year study, issued in 2011, tracked 51,000 students enrolled in Washington State community and technical colleges. It found that those who took higher proportions of online courses were less likely to earn degrees or transfer to four-year colleges. The reasons for such failures are well known. Many students, for example, show up at college (or junior college) unprepared to learn, unable to manage time and having failed to master basics like math and English.

Lacking confidence as well as competence, these students need engagement with their teachers to feel comfortable and to succeed. What they often get online is estrangement from the instructor who rarely can get to know them directly. Colleges need to improve online courses before they deploy them widely. Moreover, schools with high numbers of students needing remedial education should consider requiring at least some students to demonstrate success in traditional classes before allowing them to take online courses.”

The article goes on to mention blended courses as being more appropriate but cautions that these if poorly designed will not be of benefit to students who are struggling.

I agree with some of the editorial but I would comment further that any course (online or face-to-face) poorly designed will not benefit students who are not prepared for college.  As evidence, we can look at student attrition and graduation rates at community colleges and see that the majority of  these students do not do well in face-to-face courses either.  Especially difficult for these students are any mathematics-based courses.  At City University for instance, algebra for remedial students is most problematic.  In sum, I think the New York Times is right in raising the issue but in examining alternatives for many students with remedial needs the solutions might indeed lie with well-designed courses including those that blend online and face-to-face instruction.





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