Online courses: Are we learning yet?

The problems with online courses are not limited to MOOCs.

online-education-publicThe benefits of online learning are undeniable. Barriers inherent in traditional learning such as time, space, location, and access are eliminated with asynchronous internet courses. But all that glitters is not gold.

In its present form, online learning is far from a substitute for traditional instruction and may be damaging to certain students, even faculty.

Susan Meisenhelder, in her essay in this issue, exposes the fallacies and problems with massive open online courses (MOOCs). This article will further the discussion by showing that the problems are not limited to rogue MOOCs, but instead permeate online courses, which have become an established and lucrative staple on most college campuses.

Growing demand coupled with high failure rate

Similar to MOOCs, credit-bearing online courses are exacerbating achievement gaps, particularly for academically weak students.

Immense investments in technology, training, and technological support for students have resulted in well-oiled machines that are not always pedagogically sound. Their singular mission—to increase student access to education by providing asynchronous courses—may not be feasible for many students, especially low-income, first-generation, academically underprepared, inner-city and rural students, according to several studies from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ironically, many institutions that serve these students tout the ability of online learning to overcome the obstacles generally encountered by nontraditional students (e.g., no transportation or child care) when pursuing higher education.

Yet the problem is not exclusive to community colleges.

[*Editor’s Note: This article is part of our new online forum called Symposium–where higher education professionals explore topics of urgency and controversy with their peers, often in a point-counterpoint format. In our first Symposium, our contributors address what might be called the “irrational exuberance” around online learning. We encourage you to visit the Symposium forum We are also eager to read your brief thoughts and opinions, so be sure to leave your comments with any/all responses.]

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