New Research From University of Florida Reveals Online Learners Less Likely to Finish Education Compared to Face-to-FaceBy Joy Liwanag
Recent surveys indicate a notable shift in the perception of online learning, with a significant portion of Americans viewing online programs as equally valuable as traditional on-campus education.
A working paper published by researchers from the University of Florida's Institute of Higher Education delves into the academic outcomes of students exclusively engaged in online learning, revealing a nuanced picture of the challenges and opportunities in this educational landscape.
The Landscape of Online Learning
In recent years, more institutions have embraced online degree programs, offering learners flexibility and convenience. However, concerns about the quality and rigor of online programs persist. The University of California system, for instance, has banned exclusively online degrees, reflecting the skepticism surrounding virtual education.
The research aims to address a fundamental question: do online programs positively impact learning outcomes? While online education is celebrated for its potential to save time and money and facilitate distance learning, limited research has explored the long-term consequences of online learning compared to traditional, face-to-face education.
Key Findings of the Study
The study, utilizing data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, explores three key questions regarding exclusively online degree programs:
1. How does enrollment in exclusive online degree programs impact degree completion likelihood?
2. Do outcomes differ based on students' demographic or background features?
3. For exclusively online learners, what's the link between institution type and degree completion likelihood?
The results reveal a complex landscape. On average, students enrolled in exclusively online degree programs are less likely to complete their degrees compared to their counterparts in traditional settings. Furthermore, attending a for-profit institution exacerbates this trend, with students at these institutions facing significant challenges in completing a bachelor's degree.
Considerations for Higher Education Stakeholders
1. Acknowledge the Value of Face-to-Face Learning
Despite the rise of online education, the study emphasizes the enduring value of face-to-face learning. Colleges and universities should carefully balance the expansion of online offerings with a recognition of the unique benefits derived from in-person interactions.
2. Use Personal Engagement as a Retention Strategy
The importance of personal interactions in promoting student success cannot be overstated. Online students, often isolated in virtual environments, may lack the interpersonal relationships crucial for fostering a sense of belonging. Institutions should explore avenues to enhance personal engagement among online learners.
3. Understand the Nuances of Online Students
Online-only learners face distinct challenges, including time and location constraints. Recognizing these challenges is crucial for developing targeted support systems that address the unique needs of online students, ultimately improving graduation rates.
4. Invest in Wraparound Supports
Racially minoritized students and those attending institutions lacking sufficient academic supports may struggle more in an online environment. Institutions should invest in comprehensive support systems to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have the tools they need to succeed.
5. Prioritize Quality
As online programs continue to grow, it is essential to prioritize quality over quantity. Institutions must adhere to best practices in the development and delivery of high-quality online degree programs, ensuring that learners receive a robust and effective educational experience.
While online education offers undeniable benefits, the recent research underscores the need for a balanced and nuanced approach. Acknowledging the value of face-to-face learning, enhancing personal engagement, understanding the nuances of online students, investing in support systems, and prioritizing quality are key considerations for higher education stakeholders navigating the evolving landscape of online learning. By addressing these factors, institutions can contribute to a more equitable and effective educational experience for all students, regardless of the mode of instruction.