educationtechnews.comTraditional vs. online classrooms: The winner is ...

Traditional vs. online classrooms: The winner is …

July 30, 2012 by Jake Simms
Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Internet, Latest News & Views

Online education detractors, take a deep breath.

The No. 1 criticism of online ed is now debunked.

Think tank Ithaka S+R tested the conventional theory that students learn more in the traditional classroom vs. online. 605 undergraduates at public universities in New York and Maryland were recruited for a comparison test.

Half of the students took an introductory Statistics course that met three hours a week. The other half took Carnegie Mellon’s online statistics course and also met once a week. Then both groups of students were tested.

Result: The online students scored just as well as the traditional students — statistically equal test scores across the board.

Towson University statistics professor Linda Cooper took part in the study. She was initially a skeptic of online ed, but not anymore. “I walked away with a much more positive outlook for online courses,” saying students had a “deeper understanding” of the material after taking the online stats course.

Cutting classroom time — and costs

The Maryland and New York college students were also surveyed after finishing their courses.

The key stat? Online students spent 25% less time on coursework than the other half.

Students’ time is valuable – but colleges and universities are obviously delving deeper into online ed because of the bottom line. The higher ed bubble is all too real. Consider these recent examples:

  1. The University of Virginia recently fired (then later re-hired) its president because she wasn’t capitalizing on new revenue streams – specifically, online ed.
  2. Prestigious universities such as Princeton, MIT, Penn and Stanford are offering hundreds of courses online – for free.
  3. The market for online ed is big – possibly bigger than colleges realize. MIT was blown away when just one of its courses attracted 120,000 students.
  4. And the kicker … Student loan debt now exceeds Americans’ credit card debt. No wonder, as the price tag for college has grown four times greater than the interest rate over the last 30 years.

Trimming the bulk of the financial waste in college education will take time and hard work. For immediate relief, count on more schools embracing online ed – many simply have no other choice.

What’s your take on online ed? Share your opinion below.

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  • Mel

    How could they come to this conclusion with such a SMALL test group and one subject? I have discussed this with many students about the advantages of classroom vs online courses and the answers were always the same: Inability to concentrate when there isn’t an instructor in front of them watching. They were also more susceptible to outside interruptions than in the classroom setting. I would have guessed the opposite since it seemed it could be so easy to take classes while still in your underwear at home. Sometimes a cheaper or more ‘convenient’ alternative isn’t in the best interest of many students – especially those of us with learning disabilities (I have ADHD).

  • Simon

    Online education has its own place. When the student is able and motivated, online courses can be effective. However, that is only my personal opinion and the study above does not provide any support for such a claim. This is called selection artifact: the participants chose their own class. Without random assignment, you never know what happened. There might be more motivated students in the online class. What if these students were in the physical classroom? Would they achieve at a higher level? The opposite might be true too. What if the students in the physical classroom were in the online course? In addition, the “online” course in the study and the online courses out there (including the examples) are not the same. I would call the one included in the study a hybrid course.

  • Clarke L. Caywood

    At UW-Madison in the 1980′s we taught graduate “on-line” (3 hour digital conference calls) with an intensive classroom visit of a week to campus. The combination provided a mix of learning from peers which I believe can be more important in some subjects (testable). While statistics might be one of the more mechanistic topics taught on-line today there are subjects where a face-to-face engagement of other students in the class discussion is necessary to “get it”. Passion, body language, voice dynamics, interuptions, challenges, recognition of acceptance or rejection of ideas are part of the dynamic classroom learning experience. Classroom mixed learning with informal conversations, office hours, debates carried out into the hallway, e-mails, discussions with other professors about the other class, etc. may make classroom learning more dynamic, productive, memorable and useful for professional and personal growth. I favor a mix of on-line and classroom with very careful selection and testing of what classes are taught on-line.

  • Gerri Mackey

    Hi – I thought each of the responders had very valid statements and concerns, and I particularly liked Mr. Caywood’s last line – “I favor a mix . . . with very careful selection and testing of what classes are taught on line.” I am doing a (2nd) Master’s degree in an area that I would not have been able to do as a traditional student as there is not a College or University in my state that offers this degree; so I chose a University that offered what is known as a “low-residency” or “hybrid” program, and I could not be happier. This type of program also allowed me to continue my full time work, which then translated into my ability to pay for my degree. As those in academia know too well, in graduate programs it is oftentimes the Masters students who do not have access to the same number or dollar amount of fellowships and/or scholarships that undergraduate students and PhD students have. I am not faculty but I am a graduate advisor at a University and therefore familiar with discussions on the pros and cons of on-line learning; but I think that, if your student population is carefully chosen, and there are well defined prerequisites that require not only desire, but competency, commitment, and maturity, these classes and programs can be incredible learning experiences that will bring a very high rate of success and completion. Hopefully this will then result in the conferring of degrees on students who will be able to stand with pride and intellectual acumen on a level equal to many traditional programs in the same areas. I find the classes every bit as challenging, the amount of work abundant, and the amount of class interaction to be frequent, intense, and stimulating, as well as exceptionally intelligent and insightful. Maybe it’s the maturity level of my cohort, maybe it’s the passion we all share for the subject matter of the degree we are seeking, or maybe it is that, for two semesters, we interact on line via discussion boards, Wimba rooms, chats, SKYPE, facebook, blogs, etc.; culminating each year with our on-site summer session. It is during this session that we gather as a group and connect face-to-face on an accelerated and very engaged level. With each summer session we become closer and our friendships grow, so that when we part to attend the next two semesters on line, we are refreshed, renewed, recharged, and recommitted to the successful completion of our degree and to each other. The higher the percentage of students who complete this program is, and the lower our average time to completion becomes, is also beneficial and helps our relatively new program gain more recognition and distinction. So thank you for letting me provide you with a viewpoint that, while maybe not the norm, or the most popular in many circles, is viable, alive, and well, and being taken advantage of with increasing recurrence, appreciation, and respect in a growing population of people..

  • Tracy R.

    I need to ask about class size…. How did MIT handle the 120,000 students in just one course?

  • Doug Cole

    I received my masters online. Why? I was already employed and my supervisor would not give me the time off to commute (a 280-mile R/T.)

    The local university did not have a graduate program in my field.

    My only option was online. The only time I ever went to the actual location of the University was to graduate!

    For the most part, the only people dissing online education are those afraid of change. To the self-motivated student, online delivery is not an integument, period. If the material presented is the same, and the education is accredited, what is the problem here?


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