The Online Coursework Debate: Higher Learning Turns to Online Classes

Online learning in postsecondary education has seen explosive growth over the past decade. What was relatively rare and little known just ten years ago can be found at almost every institution of higher learning today. With more students pursuing this option, a variety of inquiries have arisen into how effective online education is compared to face-to-face instruction.

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Why Colleges Turn to Online Courses

Online coursework has expanded rapidly in sync with technological developments that make the format readily accessible and highly functional. Many schools turn to online learning as a method for delivering cost-efficient, far-reaching education. For example, online students can participate in coursework led by instructors regardless of location. This increases a school's potential student body to anyone with a reliable Internet connection. It also increases a school's instructor pool, thereby broadening the scope of possible course offerings.

An Effective Model

The U.S. Department of Education recently completed a meta-analysis of comparisons between online and face-to-face instruction. The results of the study show that students who studied online, whether in part or wholly, performed better than those who only studied through face-to-face instruction. The highest performing students were those who took courses that blended the two formats. This hybrid model is among the most rapidly growing types of post-secondary education.

According to the Department of Education, there still isn't adequate data to evaluate the effectiveness of online learning in the K-12 environment. Yet there was statistical significance to the positive effects reported at the college level. This includes both undergraduate and graduate online education.

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A Note of Caution

Despite general successes, online learning has its drawbacks. The same study that noted strengths also included data suggesting certain aspects of online learning are not helpful in improving student performance. For example, video or online quizzes were seen as ineffective relative to assigning homework. Also, the expanded use of media in online learning didn't appear to have beneficial effects.

Ultimately, the study concluded that the medium of online learning doesn't necessarily lead to improved learning. Instead, students who take online coursework are more likely to experience increased learning time. This is particularly true for those who take blended online and face-to-face courses. By combining multiple formats of education, the result is more time devoted to learning and better results.

If you pursue online learning, you're likely to encounter Blackboard, one of the most popular online classroom tools.

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