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Sunday, April 21, 2019

The downside of online learning | The Week Magazine

This story originally appeared as Online courses are cost effective but detrimental to learning, researchers find on Pacific Standard.

For more and more of today's university students, screen time is competing with seat time, says James McWilliams, professor at Texas State University.
 
Photo: Patrick Lux / Getty Images

According to the most recent statistics (from 2016–17), 33 percent of college students take at least one online class, 17.6 percent mix online and in-class coursework, and 15.4 percent exclusively take online classes. Each statistic represents an increase over the year prior, a trend that has continued since 2011. Advocates of online education are quick to celebrate this increase, but the rise of screen time in higher education may harbor some detrimental consequences.

Online courses have obvious benefits: They cut costs and are popular with working students seeking scheduling flexibility. At a number of campuses they also increase educational access. The Orlando Sentinel reports, for example, that the University of Central Florida, a school with an extensive online catalog, can serve 66,000 students due to that catalog, as opposed to the 40,000 its physical campus can accommodate. Thomas Cavanagh, UCF vice provost for digital learning, explains that demand for online offerings is at an ever-increasing level. "Students," he says, "are clearly voting with their behaviors."

But the educational benefits of online courses are less clear. A Brookings Institution report found that students taking online courses "perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses and that experience in these online courses impacts performance in future classes and likelihood of dropping out of college as well."...

Furthering the bad news for online education is the fact that the drawbacks of online coursework disproportionately harm lower-income students and community colleges. A University of California–Davis study found that community college students were 11 percent less likely to pass a class if they took it online, rather than in a face-to-face setting. Shanna Jaggers, an assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, has indicated that community colleges promote online classes for enrollment rather than educational purposes. "They need enrollments," she says, "and this [online class work] is one way to pull enrollments up."
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Source: The Week Magazine