Online-Only Classes Get Mixed Reviews

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.

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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.