The Online Paradox

A recent Education Advisory Board (EAB) report of trends in online learning documents the steady growth of “multi-modal” students, that is, students who enroll in a mix of face-to-face and online classes. I believe this trend has significant, even urgent, implications for Lesley and how we can fulfill our mission and thrive as an institution into the future. According to national data, overall enrollment at four-year institutions has increased only 2% between 2012 and 2016. During that same period, online enrollment has increased by 16%, while the number of students who have taken some online coursework has increased by 39%. Students increasing familiarity with online learning formats, and the additional flexibility that online options provide will likely continue to drive this trend.
Source: EAB: 3 Online Education Trends in 2018
But are students who take online courses as successful as those who take face-to-face schedules? The research here uncovers a fascinating paradox. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on recent research about this paradox, focusing on data from community colleges. The data shows that while students in online sections are more likely to fail a class than students in face-to-face sections, students who took some online courses were still significantly more likely to complete their associates degree than those who took no online classes. In fact, they were 25% more likely to complete than face-to-face only students. Another study from California found that community college students who enrolled in a mix of face-to-face and online classes are more likely to transfer to four year colleges than those who took only face-to-face courses. By taking a mix of face-to-face and online courses, students get the benefits of classroom instruction and personal connections to faculty and peers, while taking advantage of the flexibility that online options provide. These students are more likely to take more classes, to avoid delays when face-to-face schedules conflict with work and family obligations, and to make more timely progress to their degrees. When students are delayed by such conflicts, they are much more likely to drop out altogether. So if a mix of online and face-to-face is ideal for many students, what is the best ratio of online and face to face? A study of State University of New York system community college students found that the sweet spot appears to be two online classes to every three face-to-face classes. In my next post, I’ll propose some steps I think Lesley can take to respond to this trend as well as invite your suggestions.

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