Online Ed = Bad for bad students


For decades, there’s been a constant push to bring coursework online. From an administrative point of view, online courses are wonderful: almost no overhead, a worldwide market, and possibly infinite class size. The big expense is you need an educator to run (note: I don’t use the word “teach”) the course, but you can use most anyone for that, so that’s cheaper than a traditional class, too.

I brought one of the first courses online in the prior millennium (I apologize), but at the time I explained to admin that in order for an online course to be successful, you’d need to restrict the market. For a student to succeed in an online course, he needs to be willing to read the book and study on his own, putting at least the amount of time into the course that he would spend going to classes. So, you only wanted students who studied to be in online courses.

(Yes, I know, there was a time when study was important for college, but many courses now are arranged so that a student need merely come to class and sort-of pay attention to the Powerpoint in order to pass the course…thus asking a student to study is now considered a special request for college courses.)

Knowing this, I advised admin to restrict enrollment only to those students who’d already taken and passed “regular” courses with a good grade. Admin politely listened to my advice and explanation, and then ignored me, because they’re paid to expand enrollments as much as possible to get those sweet student loan checks.

In the second semester I offered the course, I checked for cheating, and caught half the class. I was fired, and replaced with someone who wouldn’t check for cheating.

Keep in mind, this was around 20 years ago…it was obvious then what online education was. So, it’s no surprise that a study shows that, yeah, you should restrict enrollment of online courses strictly to already successful students:

New study finds students at most risk may be those least well served by learning outside the classroom.

I’ve certainly written quite a few times what an obvious fraud online courses are.  But the drive to push towards online work has been unstoppable, and we’ve grown this fraud to ridiculous amounts.

If I Google “online education,” no quotes, I get over 1.7 billion results. If I Google “pornography,” I get a mere 87 million results. Does anyone think it odd that there’s almost twenty times as much online education available than pornography?

To be fair, online education does work for some:

“…students who are the least well prepared for traditional college also fare the worst in online courses. For top students, taking an online course didn’t definitively have a negative effect on a student’s grade point average. “

So, much like I, or any educator, could have told any administrator many years ago, online coursework just isn’t going to work for everyone, and there’s an obvious way to determine if a student will be successful online. But, much like integrity, common sense also won’t stand in the way of anything that can increase the growth of the student base.

Now, this particular study focuses on DeVry students, but the results jive with what my own eyeballs and common sense tells me. DeVry has over 100,000 students, and while their student base might not be applicable to a restricted admissions school (what few there are), the results are certainly reasonable for open admissions schools.

The whole point of education is preparation. Today’s policies of saddling students with all introductory coursework that applies nowhere and leads to nothing is alien to the higher education of a years ago. It’s important to realize that not only does online education hurt students taking the course, it hurts them when they take future courses:

…next-semester courses in the same subject area or for which the online course was a prerequisite were observed to drop 0.42 and 0.32 points…

What’s interesting here is online courses are generally sold most aggressively to the weak students: “you’ve failed this coursework in class time and again…now try it online!” is basically the sales pitch. Thus, despite what the study says, there will be no pullback even though it’s very clear selling these courses to the weakest students is evil.

The study found that the negative associations with online courses are concentrated in lower-performing students — the same ones who are often a key demographic for recruitment to online courses and online universities…

This naturally puts a black mark against the study: many of DeVry’s weakest students are proven weak students, so one could reasonably conclude that all the study has truly shown is that weak classroom students are weak online students. But this still doesn’t change the fact: online courses are particularly damaging to the weakest students.

The article, like any legitimate news site, allows reader comments (and note CNN and quite a few other places don’t). I’m hardly alone in noting the issues of the study, or that the conclusion is fairly obvious, and a couple of comments sum it up nicely

Old news to anyone who’s worked in undergraduate online education at any point in the past decade or more.

The grass is green…

Because of all the propaganda, people are still fairly ignorant of the fraud of online courses. The study/article, for instance, doesn’t even touch on the immense fraud of all the websites that will do your online coursework for you. I stopped linking to such sites because a reader didn’t want me to encourage fraud, but I think it’s a pointless woorry; the whole reason I linked to such sites is to show how they never go out of business. It’s amazing how often when I link to a study showing the fraud of higher education the link breaks after a few months (sometimes even hours after I post), but I’ve yet to have a link to a “do your coursework” site fail…those businesses are always successful.

“I do not understand the unsupported comment that ‘online courses lack consistency’. In my experience, they have the same curriculum and requirements as a physical classroom…”

Another major ignorance is there’s some consistency across coursework. A study into community colleges showed that the coursework there is unhinged…what happens in the classroom is unrelated to any claims made on the syllabus, and even the official text may have little relevance to the course. This is because accreditation is completely broken, and doesn’t check on what happens in the classroom, only that the syllabus and text are appropriate to the course.

Online courses are subject to the same scrutiny as community college courses, i.e., none at all. So why would anyone suspect online courses are consistent, much less have the same curriculum and requirements as a physical classroom?


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