Here at Learning Tech, we’ve blogged a lot in the past few years about potential optimistic outcomes of online learning: how it could be beneficial to student learning, the cost saving aspects, etc. Although there is no doubt that online learning is changing the face of education, it is important to also address the challenges and issues that appear in an online learning environment. A recent article in the New York Times titled The Trouble with Online Learning brought attention to two major issues of online learning that cannot be ignored: student dropout levels and inability to accommodate to struggling students.
Student attrition rates in online courses are nothing to brag about. Research conducted by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center has shown that students who enroll in online courses are more likely to withdraw or fail from the course than students in traditional face-to-face courses. Considering that the idea behind online courses is setting up students for success, these results are frustrating. Larger courses offered on global or national scales have a 90 percent attrition rate. Additionally, students who struggle with online courses will likely
fall behind in their traditional courses (if they are taking them at the same time) as a result.
This brings us to the next issue: online courses’ inability to accommodate students who may need the kind of help offered in traditional courses. The circumstances surrounding this issue are a bit more unknown than the former, but the article suggests that many students are failing simply because the online course environment does not offer anything close to the support provided in a face-to-face course. To succeed, many students need to remain engaged in the course and need the ability to directly communicate with their instructor and other students.
On the bright side, the research did show that students in hybrid learning courses performed as well as those in face-to-face courses. However, hybrid courses are far more rare than online courses and are still being developed and defined.
Although the article shows a rather negative view of online learning, it makes us think critically about online courses and question if we may be thinking too highly of them in their current state. Needless to say, online courses have areas in large need of improvement. This is not to say that online learning is not revolutionary–but perhaps it should be thought of more as a tool in need of innovation than a cure-all to problems in higher education.