Do all college students adapt well to online learning? Do some student populations drop out of online courses at higher rates than others? What happens to grade point averages?
A study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University in New York sheds some light on these issues.
Researchers Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars examined data from nearly 500,000 courses, taken by more than 40,000 students at community colleges in Washington state.
The study found that some student populations in Washington state struggled more than others in online courses. Among those who struggled the most were younger students, males, Black students, and students with lower grade point averages, according to the study.
Study recommendations include the following:
- Colleges might consider “incorporating early warning systems into online courses in order to identify and intervene with students who are having difficulty adapting.”
“For example, if a student fails to sign in to the online system, or fails to turn in an early ungraded assignment, the system could generate a warning for the instructor or for the college’s counseling department, who could in turn call the student to see if he or she is experiencing problems and discuss potential supports or solutions. Early warning systems are becoming increasingly popular but may require a substantial outlay of up-front costs, as well as faculty or counselor time.”
- Colleges might consider devoting more resources to “improving the quality of all online courses taught at the college, to ensure that their learning outcomes are equal to those of face-to-face courses, regardless of the composition of the students enrolled.”
“Such an improvement strategy would require substantial new investments in course design, faculty professional development, learner and instructor support, and systematic course evaluations.”
- Colleges might consider “limiting or eliminating the supply of online sections for course subjects in which a considerable proportion of students are at risk to adapt poorly.”
Bottom line: “Overall, our findings indicate that the typical student has some difficulty adapting to online courses, but that some students adapt relatively well while others adapt very poorly.” The study recommends that college stakeholders consider ways to help students who might be in at-risk categories.
Does the study have limitations? Yes. As researchers point out, the study covers only community colleges, and only in one state.
“Additional research in other states, and particularly in the four-year college setting, is needed to gain further insight into the impact of individual characteristics and course subject areas on students’ ability to adapt to online courses,” researchers urged.
Read the entire study here.
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