I linked earlier today to a story in the New York Times about a recent report that found a group of students did “noticeably worse” in online classes than their in-classroom counterparts.

According to the report, 312 university undergrads were divided into two groups: one online and one in classroom lectures.

From the article:

Hispanic students online fell nearly a full grade lower than Hispanic students that took the course in class. Male students did about a half-grade worse online, as did low-achievers, which had college grade-point averages below the mean for the university.

The co-author of the paper, David Figlio, theorizes a few possibilities: that the lure and distractions of the Internet were too hard to push away for online students, who “put off viewing the lectures and cram just before the test, a tactic unlikely to produce the best possible results.” Also, he took into account that Hispanic students for whom English is not the first language might have needed to see the body language of the professors in order to better understand the lectures, and missed out on the opportunity to meet with lecturers after class.

As with any educational institution, I believe you can find successful programs, as well as those that don’t work so well. I took an online class five years ago and found the experience altogether unimpressive. The 12 or so students in the class met once a week and corresponded with live chats, and the instructor chimed in when she was directly asked a question, but otherwise left us to our own devices. At the end of the six-week session, I didn’t feel particularly connected to the other students, or to the teacher, and didn’t feel I got much out of the experience.

But I’ve had the same reaction to traditional, in-person classes, too.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experience with online classes, whether they’re one-offs or part of a larger program. It seems to me the ideal situation would be a combination of online learning — so students can progress at their own pace — with the opportunity to meet with the instructor regularly.

Virtual schools are expanding, so it’s worth watching the trend.

  • Threehonestwords

    I graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in Political Science and then did a masters program at Capella University; an online school based out of MN. I found that I learned a lot more with the format Capella uses and felt I had a better relationship with my school, counselors, professors and other students than the typical state school I attended for my undergrad. I'm sure my life experiences may have played a role in my experience with both schools, but, I generally have been able to learn and retain more information through the specific online format Capella has structured its course in. I kind of figure that the majority of the public school system will give way to online schools anyway and I hope Capella leads the standard for excellence.

  • Tina Barseghian

    Thanks for the feedback. Good to hear about positive experiences. In fact, I must add the following thought from the same article: “A major study last year, funded by the Education Department, which culled comparative research over 12 years, concluded that online learning on average beat face-to-face teaching by a modest but statistically meaningful margin.”

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