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The Debate about Online Courses

Online courses are gaining popularity among college students, however a recent article raises debate over such programs’ effectiveness and which students are able to get the most out of them.

A recent article, Effectiveness of Fully Online Courses for College Students: Response to a Department of Education Meta-Analysis, assesses a meta-analysis conducted in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers found that online learning could be beneficial for well-prepared and financially stable students. As for lower income students and underprepared students, online learning does not seem to be as accessible or effective.

Supporters of online learning feel that, potentially, these programs can provide superior learning outcomes as well as increased access for students because of reduced costs and commute time. While this could hold true, many researchers and higher education institutions are still not completely supportive. Some research suggests that students who complete online courses do indeed learn as much and are just as satisfied as students in regular classroom environments, while other research shows that students are less likely to complete online courses in general.

The report did point out various discrepancies within the study. The first concern was the lack of comparative outcomes between online and face-to-face learning. Another issue found was the absence of diversity among the types of online courses assessed. All of these courses were some form of computer or technical related course, making it easier to use the online learning method. Finally, the samples chosen for these studies were all from mid-sized or larger universities. Five of the samples were rated by U.S. News and World Report as “selective” or “highly selective” schools, which raise issue of diversity among the types of students who were assessed. Taking all of these factors into account, the report concluded that while online courses can be effective for prepared students, this form of learning needs a great deal of improvement in order to achieve its original goal of increasing accessibility to college and improving student achievement through higher education programs.

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