Much debate on the merits and demerits of online education has followed in the wake of a recent study published by Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which, as a July 19 post on KaySteiger.com reports, "looked at more than 50,000 students in Washington state’s community or technical college system."
The study weighed – and found wanting – the online-learning features of these schools in The Evergreen State. Specifically, it emerged "that students who load up on online classes, especially early in their higher education careers, are less likely to finish their degrees," the KaySteiger.com post continues. "This is worrisome, especially because, as CCRC notes in its report, the number of students taking online courses is only increasing."
An October 5, 2011 post on The League of Ordinary Gentlemen calls attention to one glaring fact, which some other commentators had picked up on: namely, that "a lot of people don’t have and that online learning requires a level of discipline that traditional learning doesn’t." These two drawbacks are so elementary it's a wonder other opinion-makers haven't made more of them. It must be that to those who shape culture, computer literacy is a given for most if not all of the population. It likely never occurs to them that there might as yet exist folks who couldn't tell you the difference between a Web browser and a wireless network, and this says quite a bit about the prevailing biases of today's netizens.
The League of Ordinary Gentlemen post also points out a certain intractable problem plaguing online courses – the quality of students enrolled in them. Labeled nontraditional, these students tend to be "the most marginal," because their various obligations (family, employment, perhaps military), which most traditional students (residential four-year institution attendees between the ages of 18 and 24) never have to face, means "they have a lot of other things going on" and thus find "the flexibility of online learning" attractive.
But the hectic and often disorderly nature of these same students' affairs also means that their prospects for successful matriculation remain quite low by dint of this same flexibility that initially appealed to them. With a lack of structure and regimentation comes the need for a high degree of self-discipline and motivation. The lesson – learned the hard way – for these students is that while the spirit may be willing, the flesh proves too weak.
The issue becomes, then, whether all the various concerned parties can live with this high rate of attrition among nontraditional online students. "It may be worth bringing them into the fold" of postsecondary education, The League of Ordinary Gentleman post opines. "But we have to accept that one of the costs of this is going to be higher drop-out rates and at least some students potentially hurt along the way with debt but no degree." The success of online education is, it seems, an enormous omelet, and thus it will require the breaking of more than a few eggs.