When comparing online and in class learning, there are a multitude of factors to consider. The type of course, the year of the course, the difficulty of the course, the type of student, the age of the student, the student’s reason for taking a class online, the quality of the curriculum, and the support from the school. These diverse factors make it difficult to make conclusive statements on whether students taking classes online are subject to any advantages or disadvantages.
A lot of studies have attempted to discern a difference between online and in class performance, but they often look at too small of a sample, fail to account for certain bias and variables, or they are just to dated to reference in a current discussion. I was able find data on a larger sample, from a 2013 study. The study looked at 134 000 students Washington students enrolled at 2 year programs from 2004 to 2009. In addition to looking at the differences in GPA, the study also looked at the persistence of the students. Persistence being whether or not they completed the course from start to finish, important when considering that data is often skewed by students with the lowest grades dropping courses.
The study identifies persistence as the percentage chance of a student not completing the course. The study shows that those taking a class online versus in class are 7% less likely to complete the course, a 95% chance of in class students completing the course and an 88% a chance of online students completing that same course. There was also a disparity in the GPA of the online students, those students taking online courses saw a final grade that was on average over 0.3 grade points.
When comparing online versus in class, it’s hard to use a study like this to make a general statement. More importantly, we cannot make a conclusion about the quality of learning based on just two sets of data. I would argue that when taking a class online, you forego the sense of accountability gained by physically showing up to class. When going to class, you feel accountable to whomever may be in your class and your instructor. I believe the 7% difference in the persistence between in person and online classes exists because of this lack of accountability. If you are a school, look to make your curriculum involve things that force the student to be accountable – user/teacher interaction, user/user interaction, and consistent work. If you are a student, try to avoid online classes if you feel it is difficult to stay committed without other people to make you accountable.
Xiu,Di,. Jaggars, Shana Smith., 2013. “The impact of online learning on students’ course outcomes: Evidence from a large community and technical college system”. New York, United States: Columbia University.