The discussion of outcomes is prevalent in higher education these days, with faculty, administrators, pundits, and elected officials weighing in on how and why colleges should measure outcomes. At the same time, novel web-based pedagogies and platforms are making a strong case that traditional classroom education needs to make room for other models. Can the web-based models stack up against the tried and true experience of professors and students learning in the same room?
Should you pursue web-based education, as a student or a provider? You should if you have adequate hardware and software, and a strong technological partner to help support the effort. Let’s examine three measures and see the results:
- Test scores
- Student experience
- Who really benefits?
One of the most common objections to online learning is that the student doesn’t learn as much as in the traditional classroom. It is imagined that because individuals are not as physically closely connected online as in a classroom that the level of help and attention is diminished for those students, and so the test scores will be lowered. Is it so? A study from two universities in Alabama suggests that test scores across a few tests were nearly identical when traditional education is compared to web-based. In some cases traditional education scores are higher, in other cases it is the web-based. It appears that web-based education can hold its own with traditional classroom instruction, and student’s educational outcomes are not compromised. The Outcome: Test scores do not have to be compromised.
Web based teaching cannot match traditional classrooms on the basis of ongoing human interaction. Professors are not able to connect with students in and out of the classroom as readily on the web. As a result, it is said, students are less connected to the professor and to each other, which diminishes the experience of education. Is it so? What web-based education lacks in flesh-and-blood, it more than makes up for in access. Blogs, podcasts, e-books, and learning management systems allow students to interact with professors and classmates at anytime, anywhere. Students can learn at their own pace, offer questions when they have them (not waiting until the next class), and can collaborate more easily with the use of sharing platforms.
Some suggest that online delivery can help bridge the gap between student and professor, because everyone is responsible for interaction. Others remind that student satisfaction and success depends on a complex interconnection of variables that is predictable, but can be hard to replicate in every situation. Since student satisfaction is a huge component in recruiting to and completing course work, it cannot be underestimated in traditional or online learning.
If you work with an organization that can identify the proper software, offer training for its use, and provide support when there are problems you will enhance the student experience and remove barriers to success. The Outcome: Students respond well to online courses, if the conditions are right.
Despite the rhetoric about student-centered education, there are other powerful stakeholders in online education. Leaders at small schools have been the slowest to adapt to online learning. These schools value, and market, the small classes and close interaction that they provide. Web-based learning appears to be anathema to those ideals. Large schools have found another path. Leaders there tout the success on online delivery and the preference for it in some disciplines. Web-based delivery allows for higher enrollment with the same or lower cost, creating revenue to be spent elsewhere in the university. Very large, and some elite, universities are finding partnerships with for-profit companies, where the business provides the platform and the university creates the content. This is a win-win and great brand placement for both. Web-based learned can have a positive effect on access and delivery of educational content, but it is not without a motive to lower costs and increase revenue. The Outcome: Web-based learning will catch on more quickly and effective through large and elite universities, with smaller schools playing catch-up.
Web-based education has a firm hold in the public and private sectors. It is neither the boogey man, nor the best choice. It is, with the engagement of the student, the professor, and a capable support team, an option that provides an education in effective ways and places that were formerly impossible. The Outcome: Give it a try, but make sure you have training and support.