Distance Learning

CC Students Face Uphill Climb in Succeeding with Online Courses

A recently presented study from the University of California Davis questions the effectiveness of allowing first-time students in community colleges to take online classes. The research examined the completion rates of 217,000 community college students between the school years of 2008-2009 and 2011-2012.

The team's work was led by Cassandra Hart, an assistant professor of education policy at UC Davis' School of Education. "We found the same pattern of results across all course types," she said in a statement. Students, on average, have poorer course completion outcomes in online courses.

The results were even worse for students taking online courses outside the regular academic calendar and when enrolled in classes with "a relatively low" share of students enrolled through online sections.

The researchers found performance gaps of between 20 and 30 percent for courses in mathematics and humanities (which include English language arts). Also, women faced a slightly larger performance gap than men. However, there were no discernible differences in the size of the gap across instructor contract types or instructor experience.

"The consistency of our results is important from a policy perspective," noted Hart. "Policymakers in California and other states are interested in exploring whether online courses can be used to expand instruction and improve outcomes, but there may be costs to this strategy."

The research team recommended that more formal cost-benefit analyses be done to see if course non-completion or failure offset possible cost savings associated with online courses.

The team made several recommendations:

  • That community colleges limit the number of online sections offered during the summer;
  • That faculty put in place practices and course policies to help them detect "student disengagement"; and
  • That schools introduce study and time-management strategies for online formats into their programs.

The research was presented during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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