3 hurdles for online education and why they matter

1. 41 percent of chief academic officers say they agree that retaining students is a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face classes, a new report said. Only 28 percent of respondents felt this way about retention in 2009, and only 27 percent concurred in 2004, according to a 2013 survey released by Pearson and the Sloan Consortium, along with Babson researchers.

“Comparing the retention in online courses to those in face-to-face courses is not simple or easy,” the report’s authors wrote. “Online courses can attract students who might otherwise have not been able to attend traditional on-campus instruction because of work, family, or other obligations.”

2. Di Xu, a postdoctoral research associate at Teachers College Columbia University, wrote in a recent blog post that the student-instructor connection in web-based classes has been a persistent weak spot in online education. Xu, who pointed out that improving student-teacher connection would require more investment in online learning, wrote that “effective online instructors develop and promote strong interpersonal connections within their course, which requires not only up-front professional development for faculty, but also requires instructors to devote a substantial amount of time throughout the course.”

3. Many colleges have fallen short in producing high-quality online classes that keep students engaged, Xu wrote. Schools, including community colleges, have invested significant resources in creating and maintaining online programs, though “most of these supports are provided on a passive basis, rather than being proactively integrated into the everyday activities of students and faculty.”

Xu wrote that research has shown that many online course instructors say they feel alone in designing and running a class, and that a proactive stance on the part of the institution is necessary to support faculty and produce quality online courses.