Assessments of students' web skills should be mandatory, researchers say.

College courses that blend face-to-face instruction and online lessons may not be the panacea for expanding higher education, according to research that tracked the completion rates of online and traditional community college students.

There was an eight-point completion rate gap between web-based students and their classroom peers, according to the study, conducted by researchers from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) after evaluating more than 50,000 students at two-year Washington state colleges from 2004-09.

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Study authors Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars wrote that students who took entirely-online classes often struggled with “technical difficulties” and “a sense of social distance and isolation” as they completed coursework from home.

Online students also lacked the academic support traditional students receive on campus, the researchers wrote, adding that hybrid classes that combine the two types of learning settings could be a short-term answer for bridging the completion rate gap.

Hybrid courses, which require semi-frequent trips to campus for lectures and tutoring sessions, wouldn’t expand college access the way web-based learning would.

“We did not find any consistent or significant differences between hybrid and face-to-face completion rates, suggesting that hybrid courses may pose fewer challenges for students,” the report said. “Unlike online courses, however, hybrid courses do not offer complete freedom from geographic and temporal constraint, and thus do not hold out the same promise for dramatically improved access to postsecondary education.”

Smith Jaggars, in an eMail to eCampus News, said the inflexibility of hybrid–or “blended” courses–could hinder widespread implementation of the class model on many campuses.

“[Hybrid classes] don’t offer the same degree of convenience and flexibility as online courses, which may be why colleges have not really instituted them on a wide scale,” she said.


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