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The Two Big Problems With Online College Courses 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-recess-and-nobody-judging-you-when-you-slack dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that while online college classes are already common, on the whole, the record is not encouraging because there are two big problems with online teaching. First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed. Research has shown that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes, which means that they spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return. Worse still, low-performing students who may be just barely hanging on in traditional classes tend to fall even further behind in online courses. 'Colleges need to improve online courses before they deploy them widely,' says the Times. 'Moreover, schools with high numbers of students needing remedial education should consider requiring at least some students to demonstrate success in traditional classes before allowing them to take online courses.' Interestingly, research found that students in hybrid classes — those that blended online instruction with a face-to-face component — performed as well academically as those in traditional classes. But hybrid courses are rare, and teaching professors how to manage them is costly and time-consuming. 'The online revolution offers intriguing opportunities for broadening access to education. But, so far, the evidence shows that poorly designed courses can seriously shortchange the most vulnerable students.'"
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The Two Big Problems With Online College Courses

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  • fix the students (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vswee (2040690) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:34PM (#42960641) Journal
    they should teach students in secondary school to be more "highly motivated". would make the college experience much more rewarding.
    • Re:fix the students (Score:5, Interesting)

      by funwithBSD (245349) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:40PM (#42960675)

      If found the UOP online classes to be much easier for me than when I went to a traditional Uni.

      The one class at a time, 6 weeks of grind was very effective. I felt focused and did not fell like I was losing cycles switching between subjects.

      That said, it is a bit of a death march. Once you fall behind, you are likely unable to recover.

      During my two years I dropped 2 classes. One for a death in the family of the grandfather I am named after, and the other for an instructors that was not just off the syllabus, but off the map too.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:51PM (#42960743)

      When I really want to learn something, I'm plenty motivated - I eat, breath and shit the subject.

      When I had to take a subject because somewhere someone dictated that one has to take that subject to be "well rounded", I did the bare minimum to get a decent grade and get it over with. Art History for example. The only way to get a good grade in it was to memorize paintings and artists that I forgot 3 days after the class ended.

      • The videos that I find most informative of both the teaching and learning experience are 1) John Cleese in The Meaning of Life as the English Public School instructor who manages to make "the facts of life" a complete bore, 2) John Cleese in Life of Brian in the stoning scene, 3) Ben Stein and the ensemble cast in the "Bueller . . . Bueller" scene, and 4) Father Guido Sarducii's "5 Minute University."
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @10:24PM (#42961937)

        I'm a professor at a Texas law school. Taking certain classes can be a bitter pill for many to swallow despite interest in the material or field of law more generally, educator or method of teaching the material, or any other factor.

        In response to the article, though. My school has an 80% class attendance requirement for students. Some students miss every class they can, and some professors (including myself) allow others to slide by with fewer than 80% for one reason or another. I have noticed that generally higher student attendance correlates with higher student grade, but in many cases requiring high attendance numbers can be burdensome to students and the correlation can go the opposite direction.

        The problem, and this may hold for students in online classes also, is that many students are attempting to juggle competing yet equally-compelling responsibilities. Many of my students are >35 and have families with young children and/or are working in addition to taking classes. If they can demonstrate fulfillment of my criteria in class, I don't care how often they are there.

        But for the younger students, who often aren't as mature and lack the life experience to deal with some of the pressures of a stressful environment like law school, and who aren't as driven or motivated to succeed as the older students, not attending means poor grades. These students rarely learn outside class, so class is where you must focus the efforts.

        On the other hand, I have advocated for teaching a "life learning"-type course. I would love to teach metacognitive and metamemory strategies, encourage volunteerism and community activism, and similar life lesson-type materials--for credit! This may solve some of the maturity issues (because most people need time to develop these skills and passions).

        • by quetwo (1203948)

          I'm also a professor where I teach telecommunications topics. What I find is that my "online-only" students rarely dedicate enough time for the class. It is often "squeezed in" with the rest of their regular activities. For example, most of my online-only choose that path because they had a 40-hour a week job plus other responsibilities so they couldn't attend my 5pm - 9pm class one day a week. Rarely do they set aside enough time to do the out-of-class assignments properly either.

          This leads to the stud

      • by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @11:11PM (#42962255)

        Historically people like you would be allowed to flunk out of college so that the seats would be available for people who valued education.

        The sort of specialization that we've seen in recent decades is a really big problem. Few problems of any size in the world are truly solvable with only one area of specialty. Economics, pollution, humanitarian crises, health care and such require that one be capable of working across specialties with people who have studied other things.

        Those subjects you're complaining about are what makes it possible for people to do that. What's more, very few people these days will spend an entire career in one field and the more subjects you've been exposed to the more likely that you'll be able to adapt.

        But, lastly and possibly most importantly, studying and thinking in different ways is good for your brain.

        • by DigiShaman (671371) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @01:43AM (#42963227) Homepage

          Not anymore. Now we have degree inflation where it takes a BA just to get a 10/hour job. It's a "requirement" AKA HR Dept resume filter. College is now the HS diploma. Essentially, you must now purchase a student loan billed at historic all-time highs just to get a job that will hardly be enough to pay it off. And you can't default on student loans.

          Two words. Indentured servitude!

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Not true, if you get a union security job around here you don't need a degree and you get paid probably $13 an hour.

            But yes, that's what happens when you cut funds for higher education and ship all the good paying jobs overseas and bust the unions.

        • Education should be broad, but how well formed are you really when having a bit of all? Are you really an expert in Economics after taking Economics 101, or sociology after taking Sociology 101, etc... ?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            As far as the breadth requirements go, I can see two things:

            Awareness of situations, issues, and other factors outside of your own speciality along with the ability to frame real world problems and decisions using information "from left field" (you don't want to make some engineering decisions without a cursory knowledge of economics, right?)

            and... knowing what you don't know. Often I find those old survey classes to be valuable simply because they've provided me the tip of a wedge to make an informed bit o

      • Online education offers an incredibly equalizing opportunity for people all over the world. At the same time it destroys the notion that everybody is equal and everybody should be given the opportunity to succeed. The reality is if you cannot hack it then you should not be wasting a university's resources.

        "Struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment" should not be wasting seats which could be offered to students who are more motivated and better prepared to learn. Harvard, Y

        • Just a data point... I am effectively "dropping" Udacity's GPU parallel programming course. So, I'm in the 90%. My company just dropped a freaking enormous but very cool project in my lap that for some unknown reason has to be functional by April 1. So, I postponed this class (it will take me all of a week to complete later this year), dropped workouts at the gym, and I'm once again coding on weekends... and loving it! I suspect that a fair number of that 90% are not struggling at-risk students.

      • "When I really want to learn something, I'm plenty motivated - I eat, breath and shit the subject."

        Okay, but you have identified exactly the problem with most of the online courses. Since they don't offer anything for completion -- most don't even offer much in the way of a "certification of completion" yet, much less actual credits -- they will continue to get lots of students who AREN'T really motivated to study. They're just taking the course for shits and giggles.

        When people put in the work, they want to get something tangible out of it: college credits, or at lease some kind of official piece of

      • When I really want to learn something, I'm plenty motivated.

        Well, duh. That's what motivation means.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have a better idea. We discourage the students who aren't cut out for secondary school from enrolling in the first place. We also fight the stigma associated with trade and labor jobs. In many cases, the skilled trades person is going to be financially way ahead of the mediocre college grad by the time they're 30 anyway. There are also more real jobs in many trades than we can expect from many shitty college degrees.

      • by J Story (30227)

        I have a better idea. We discourage the students who aren't cut out for secondary school from enrolling in the first place. We also fight the stigma associated with trade and labor jobs. In many cases, the skilled trades person is going to be financially way ahead of the mediocre college grad by the time they're 30 anyway. There are also more real jobs in many trades than we can expect from many shitty college degrees.

        The other notable advantage of trade jobs is that it is not so easy to offshore them. Replacing a hot water tank and adding a new electrical circuit still requires a guy in a truck who does house calls.

        • Re:fix the students (Score:5, Interesting)

          by plover (150551) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @02:25AM (#42963527) Homepage Journal

          The hidden drawback is that one clever person can decimate an industry. Take plumbing, for example. Fitting iron pipes together required sweat, hacksaws, pipe threaders, and a lot of time to plumb a building. Then along came copper tubing, which was lighter and faster, and a six week job became a four week job. PVC turned drainage work into a cut and glue operation, shaving off more time. And now we have Pex with which a plumber can run a house as fast as he can drill holes in two by fours and snap a few fittings on, finishing in mere days. Where we needed seven plumbers 50 years ago, today we need one.

          And every industry is looking to technology to make laborers "more efficient". Smart people make advances in crop harvesting, reducing the demand for farmers. Boring machines have replaced tunnel diggers. Given the average car's reliability has risen sixfold due to continual improvements in engineering, machining, and materials, how many mechanic jobs are left? The size of the motors that electricians would have once repaired keeps going up as commodity pricing has made even large motors cheaper than the cost of a rebuild.

          The job of a laborer isn't being off shored, but it is still being threatened.

          • by delt0r (999393)
            Yea, and then there all these buggy whip manufactures without jobs as well... Think of their children.

            We are not worse off when we don't need to spend every waking hour working just to have enough to eat. It was like that once upon a time. But some clever dick decided to plant stuff and make it easier to gather. The rest is history. A much better history at that.

            Increasing the utility of labor is a good thing.
      • by ArhcAngel (247594)

        We discourage the students who aren't cut out for secondary school from enrolling in the first place.

        Quite right. I mean just think...If Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright, James Cameron, or Mark Zuckerberg hadn't been wasting the college's time and energy they could have trained someone who would be able to succeed in the modern world.

      • We discourage the students who aren't cut out for secondary school from enrolling in the first place.

        Then you'd better have a damn accurate way of identifying them, otherwise you're seriously harming some people. Usually, someone in authority telling you that you can't succeed guarantees that you won't.

    • Re:fix the students (Score:5, Interesting)

      by erpbridge (64037) < minus punct> on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:11PM (#42960905) Journal

      When I took my online classes at Charter Oak from 2007-2011, the instructors in ALL the classes were required to have an online forum, and part of the grading criteria for every course was a class participation grade which was 30 pct of the total grade. The instructors usually had a criteria that there had to be X number of posts on the forum across two different days, and that one of the posts had to be an initial post in response to one of the 3 or 4 posted discussion topics for the week. The other posts had to be a meaningful and well thought out post in response to another person's topic advancing the discussion. The teachers also, in addition to a weeklong assignment published ahead of time, had a written assignment due mid week that was not posted until that Sunday, and one that was posted the day after the mid week one that was due Saturday.

      These all seemed to be common themes across all the courses. This seemed to be this college's way of trying to keep the students engaged with the class and instructor. Now, it depended on the instructor... some were pretty hands off for their classes, so people got away with posting a very general short post, and some instructors were hands on and did not accept those short posts toward the week total.

      The students also, in the first year, had a mid semester and mid term checkup phone conference with their assigned academic advisor, as well as a yearly checkup over the summer to fine tune their course selections for the coming year. After the first year was completed, the only time we really talked to academic advisor was during the summer about fine tuning the course selections, as the course curriculum contained a relatively large open area for choosing your classes toward your major, and WHEN you could choose to take those classes (some colleges insist certain core courses must be taken during your first two semesters... this one was open to when you took them, as long as you did.)

      Really though, no matter what amount of handholding the college gives you, no matter if you're taking it online or in person, or hybrid, its up to you as the student to step up as an adult and realize you're overwhelmed and need help. With an online course, you end up taking more of that in your own hands, as no one can actually see your body language, your class hours are NOT set to specific times like at a brick and mortar, and you also aren't as isolated from outside real world distractions during your chosen class time as you are at a brick and mortar.

      Whereas in a brick and mortar college you are able to sit yourself down in the cafeteria or library and read, and you MUST be in a structured class between 2:30-5:00 on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday... In an online class you have to find time after the kids head to sleep, and your chosen class time is 10:30pm-11:45pm on Sunday, Tuesday, and Saturday.... and as you're sitting at the computer, you have to resist the urge to Facebook/email/IM/game, and set your priorities straight.

      (That last little bit right there is the unstated reason why so many people have problems... myself included. I never bombed out of any online classes or withdrew... but I skated through on a few classes by phoning it in with lax teachers while on a raiding guild schedule from shortly after work ended until midnight.)

      • by plover (150551)

        I had a similar experience. A couple of things that helped me were discipline grown from experience ( keeping an eye on the calendar is easier once you mature), a good pair of comfortable noise canceling headphones, an office door to shut out the rest of the house and family during class time, and the 1.5X speed-up button on the lectures (2.0X for the really ... slow ... umm ... profs.)

        I never let myself get behind by more than two weeks worth of unwatched lectures (I was almost always current within a day

    • Exactly! Maybe students who are not highly motivated should learn a trade, because only highly motivated and intelligent students can succeed in college. It does take more discipline to study and work at home. A big problem is that they don't teach discipline and self-control anymore in our public schools. The teach students how to feel good about themselves and toe the line to whatever happens to be politically correct at the moment.

    • Fix the lecturer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:07PM (#42961401) Homepage Journal

      they should teach students in secondary school to be more "highly motivated". would make the college experience much more rewarding.

      Motivation is the responsibility of the lecturer, not the student. You can't teach someone to be more motivated. Forcing someone to "tough it out" when things are boring is counterproductive, it's not the way we learn.

      Motivation comes from two things: perceived value, and emotional content.

      Courses which focus on theory and the abstract aspects of a subject are going to seem boring and pointless, while courses which incorporate a mix of theory and practical application in a way that's perceived as valuable will be more interesting.

      So for example, an electronics course can focus on theory and problem solving - with long derivations at the start and the formula results at the end of each lecture. That would be boring, and requires a significant amount of "forced attention".

      That same course could focus on hands-on projects, showing students that they could build things which they could actually use. Once a circuit is working, *then* explain why it works - filling in the knowledge gaps after the student has basic familiarity. That would be interesting, and follow more naturally the way humans learn.

      That's perceived value; the other aspect is emotional content.

      Many lecturers present the information in a dry, matter-of-fact manner. This is also boring, and requires "forced attention".

      Some lecturers, however, have an infectious enthusiasm for the subject. They laugh, tell jokes and amusing stories, and generally have fun with the subject. The students enjoy the lecture and the learning isn't an ordeal.

      That's the emotional side of value. There are other types of emotional content, such as horror novels in literature, or the chemistry of explosives.

      Teach the professors about motivation. You'll get a lot more effect for your efforts.

      • Re:Fix the lecturer (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Macgrrl (762836) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:48PM (#42961679)

        I beg to differ - motivation falls into two separate categories - internal and external motivations.

        Say you want to lose some weight and buff up a bit. The internal motivation may be you don't like the way you look and you want to avoid health problems in the future. Any time you feel yourself starting to slack off, you have to revisit your goals and the reasons why you started the weight loss program in the first place.

        Many people have difficulty managing internal motivations, so they rely on external motivations - in the case of the weight loss example, you may hire a personal trainer who will show up and badger you into following your agreed exercise routine. You may also join something like Weight Watchers where you have a regular weigh in and will be 'shamed' within the support group if you don't follow your agreed plan.

        When it comes to study, having the goal of becoming a Doctor may be an internal motivation to pay attention in class - you have a personal reason for wanting to excel. Not wanting to waste money on a course you drop out of or may have to repeat, or having to tell your parent you failed a course they paid for is an external motivation.

        The greatest success comes when someone is truly engaged and internally motivated to achieve. If you rely entirely on external motivations and don't really want to be doing whatever it is you are working towards, as soon as the external factor lets up you'll stop.

        Having an entertaining lecturer is certainly better than having a boring one, but if the student is only doing the course because they don't know what else to do with their time, it's unlikely they will absorb the lessons for any length of time.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @03:34AM (#42963975) Journal
        College is (partly) about preparing for the real world. In the real world, no one is around to entertain you while you learn.

        Today at work, I read a man page, and then had to read through some source code. Neither one was entertaining, there was no one there holding my hand. It was boring, dry and incredibly matter-of-fact. That's how the real world is, for a lot of problems you aren't even lucky enough to have the man page.

        Professors don't have education degrees because their job isn't to educate. Their job is to be founts of wisdom and knowledge, from which students can learn and grow, or the students can flunk out if they don't want to work. That prepares you for the real world.

        Of course, some schools are party schools.
    • by c0lo (1497653)
      At $5, 3 handouts the size of a postcard [] seems to be a good course support.
      But again, an "online course support" as suggested should be equally effective for students not suffering from ADHD.
    • Seriously, we need to fix the focus on college.

      College is great and you should be encouraged to get an education, but not everyone should need to go to college. We need a revival of trade schools and apprenticeships. The problem with poor students who need hand holding comes from the fact they should have never been pushed to college in the first place. Every parent, every teacher, every news article is telling kids today that without college they are nothing. That is what we need to change, you shouldn't n

    • by tqk (413719)

      they should teach students in secondary school to be more "highly motivated".

      I was highly motivated (Stanford Networking), then they peed me off with copyright/BS discussions. Assholes. I am a motivated student. I'm not motivated in any way when jerks like that are in charge. I zone out instead. There's better things to do, and life's too short to worry about them.

    • How do you propose to teach motivation to someone who doesn't have it?

      Go ahead and explain it to me. I'll try to be generous about any assumptions you may take.

  • Nothing New Here... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Art Challenor (2621733) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:36PM (#42960659)
    "Correspondence Courses", of which online is the latest incarnation, have always had these problems. Indeed, degrees obtained through this type of self-study are often very highly regarded, not just because you have the degree, but because you had the motivation and tenacity to complete the degree without all the traditional support structure of an bricks-and-mortar college.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Em Adespoton (792954)

      "Correspondence Courses", of which online is the latest incarnation, have always had these problems. Indeed, degrees obtained through this type of self-study are often very highly regarded, not just because you have the degree, but because you had the motivation and tenacity to complete the degree without all the traditional support structure of an bricks-and-mortar college.

      Indeed; and I remember taking experimental online courses 20 years ago, where the study associated with the courses had exactly the same findings. Some of the courses attempted to fix the attrition rate by having companion courses that were required to be taken at the same time at a local campus -- this resulted in slightly higher attrition for the meatspace course, and significantly less attrition for the online one.

      This was 20 years ago. I had hoped that we had learned a few things since then, not jus

      • What exactly is the problem with a high attrition rate? Make the classes free like coursera etc., and let the instructors try to keep the audience interested enough to keep coming back.

    • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:18PM (#42960993)
      "Highly regarded"? I've seen managers throw out any resume that had University of Phoenix or any other online university. Let's face it, online degrees are a high-priced joke.
      • I've seen managers do many stupid things that are not in the best interest of their employer. Of course, useless degrees are useless no matter how you came by them but the numerous issues of "for-profit" education are not really the topic.

        When I wrote the comment, I was specifically thinking of "Open University" degrees in the UK. They used to broadcast classes on TV at off-peak times and this is in pre-VCR days. So students actually had to get up a 5am, or stay up until 1am, to watch the lecture.
      • " online degrees are a high-priced joke"
        Your experience shows a US bias, though my understanding is that distance education provision is often of low quality in your country. It looks as if you still have distance learning which has quality control and pedagogical models from 100 years ago. I'm not sure whether this is to lack of regulation, "the invisible hand of the market" driving quality down or other reasons?

        Teaching over distance creates specific challenges, though does not imply poor-quality per se.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:39PM (#42960669)

    It's not online courses that are the issue, it's the people taking them. I'm in a Business 101 class at the moment (Have a B.S. in C.S., taking this a pre-req for some other educational goals I have), and the other people in the class are completely without discipline. It's a condensed 8 week course. We had one full week to take a mid term, which entails showing up to a campus in Northern Virginia, there are like 6, and taking a one hour exam. Enough people failed to do that, that the professor extended the time to take the exam by ONE WHOLE WEEK, this was after it was due!

    Then I had a group project to do, each person in our group was assigned a portion which involved a 1-2 paragraph response. I get a beautiful full page response from someone two hours before we turn it in (I was to combine and submit for our group). The devil's advocate in me copied an entire paragraph, googled it, and low and behold, that person had plagiarized word for word from another group who had taken this course previously. When I asked for citations, they simply cited the main website for the fortune 500 company that the report was in, which, mind you, had ZERO information on it than what was on the page they turned in.

    So like I say, it's not the medium, it's the dumbasses who typically enroll in them. Community colleges should stop focusing on passing everyone or handing out blue ribbons and start thinning out the herd. They're doing more a disservice to these kids by allowing them so much slack than they realize.

    • So like I say, it's not the medium, it's the dumbasses who typically enroll in them. Community colleges should stop focusing on passing everyone or handing out blue ribbons and start thinning out the herd. They're doing more a disservice to these kids by allowing them so much slack than they realize

      I agree with you 100%. I am a highly motivated student and have performed well in online courses. Teaches hold me back. But ... the reasons the colleges do these things you mention is MONEY. It is "for profit", so they just entice the kids to take out loans and grants so the college gets the money. They are not overly concerned if they pass.

    • by dgun (1056422) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:46PM (#42961671) Homepage
      I agree. And how much is a college degree worth when everyone has one? There is a student loan bubble on the horizon and I guess a mountain of defaults is what it will take before we seriously reconsider how we educate in the US.
  • by starworks5 (139327) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:39PM (#42960673) Homepage

    Don't forget those "job creators" hire people like me, to do the homework and tests for them, so that they can take future credit for many more accomplishments. Just look at what happened at Harvard, or how someone like James Franco could finish his degree so quickly.

  • I attend University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. For every class I take online I have to pay $300 on top of the already ridiculously high tuition. I have no idea why; there's no additional resources they're using, and they don't have to use any classrooms for this. It should be a $300 DISCOUNT.
    • Because they can. The fact that you're enrolling in an online course means you're probably working, so you have more money than the regular students.

  • close contact with instructors is at the tech / trade schools and the Community Colleges.
    Not so much at the bigger Universitys where you may just have big class room with a TA.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      That's probably not true. I'm not aware of any college where that's the case outside of that first year, once you get into your major, the classes are more normal sized.

      And that's assuming you chose to go to a large state school, I went to a small state school and when there'd be 75 students in a class, I would have 3 professors. I never had to deal with any of those massive lecture halls and TA quiz sections.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:42PM (#42960691)

    I have taken several online classes with Coursera starting with Andrew Ng's Machine Learning outing (before he even launched Coursera).

    I'll sign up for lots of classes that look interesting, but I don't know what they're going to be like or more importantly when they're ever going to start. Then suddenly, a whole bunch of them start at the same time. I pick the best one or two and stick with those. Three at once with a full-time lead dev gig is not so cool.

    You can't plan when you're going to take what because it's very touch-and-go with Coursera. I've been registered for Jurafsky and Manning's NLP class for months and months now, and I have no clue when or even if it will ever start. Also, you have no idea with a class if it's going to get stupid part way through because people complain that it's too tough.

    And, sometimes work just picks up and you have to drop most or all of your classes, that's just how it goes.

    Still, one class I just finished, something like 17% of the people who finished had doctoral degrees (self-reported). So there's a pretty good quality of student that sticks it out.

    • by AuMatar (183847)

      This is a factor. There's also the quasi-dropout rate. I've decided in several courses that the amount of work to do the homework wasn't worth it, because the code was trivial. I just wanted to follow the lectures and have a discussion room, I got more out of that.

      But the real dropout rate is still high. I was a TA at a distance math course in the early 2000s. In 3 years nobody ever finished it- except me. I've done MITx and Coursera, every course has dozens of people saying they didn't know it would

    • Yes, attrition rates largely reflect the low barrier to participation. Attrition rate cannot be considered in isolation of other factors.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      I've tried taken several of them, but the lack of predictability in the scheduling of the terms and the technical problems have meant that I haven't been able to do much of anything with the classes. And because they're free, the IT isn't there to make sure that most of the class is able to participate. I remember that first try where the webpage with the questions wouldn't even load properly.

      I'm going to try again in March, but the system isn't really as well run as it could be, and I'd pay them some money

  • I thought the point of higher education was to pursue a topic of your own interest. That in itself was the motivation to complete the studies, you actually wanted to learn the topic being taught. Why is it such a failure of the system when people drop out? - Maybe they just discovered that they didn't like that subject or perhaps they really were not capable of being self motivated and independent.

    All this academic hand-holding in college/university can't be producing the best possible graduates. What happe

    • Self-motivation is a bit of a paradoxical concept. If you can motivate yourself to anything, what's motivating you to give yourself motivation?

      The idea that you are in charge, in control of your life, is obviously a very beneficial belief to those who hold it. Pity the evidence for it doesn't hold up under closer examination.

  • still tied to the old traditional ideas when overall we need to rethink college.

    Too much is put on a degree / name of school over real skills / on the job work.

    Maybe degrees need to be broken up in to smaller chucks or maybe even killed off. The degree system seems to drag down tech schools

    Also the (degree / college class / credits) time table can lead to stuff being padded out to fill out a credit and other stuff can get over slimmed down to fit it.

    And other things are relevance of the classes as in too mu

    • There's nothing wrong with the current university education, other than letting in far too many unqualified students.

      What you are asking for already exists. It's called a trade school. It's far more appropriate for what the summary euphemistically calls "struggling students." People who are "needing remedial education" should not be attending a university. Any college that has lowered its entrance standards so far that remedial education is even on the table has turned itself into a diploma mill that wi

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Any college that has lowered its entrance standards so far that remedial education is even on the table has turned itself into a diploma mill that will shortly be known as worthless.

        Or it is a state university where the people who pay the taxes kinda expect that their kids can go and get a degree, even if their kids are unmotivated lunks who do nothing but consume oxygen and fritos. And beer.

        Funny how people kinda think that a college degree is now a right of some kind. So much so that Oregon just passed a law saying that illegal immigrants can attend state schools at in-state tuition rates. One interesting argument was that allowing them to attend at lower rates would help build an

      • The problem that employers have is knowing ahead of time who would and who would not be able to do the job they need done. If for example there are a dozen applicants for a welder job, how does an employer pick the best applicant? Some kid out of high school might be the best welder, but is not likely to get the job over someone who can present some kind of fancy school certificate. It is not likely that there are many employers who will take each applicant and have them actually weld something, to try

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          Some kid out of high school might be the best welder, but is not likely to get the job over someone who can present some kind of fancy school certificate.

          Not sure which university teaches welding, but I'd stay away from that one if you want a real education.

          It is not likely that there are many employers who will take each applicant and have them actually weld something,

          Well, better that than asking for a college transcript and thinking that the English major has a better chance of working out than the high-school vo-tech graduate as a welder.

  • Failure rates (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:50PM (#42960741)

    I teach history at a community college, both online and face to face, and I can attest to the failure rates for online classes. They're high. My failure rate for face to face classes is probably about 30% (I teach in a very low-income, low-literacy area, with most students speaking English as a second language) while it's around 50% for online classes. Many of those students do only maybe 30% of the assignments. Face to face students who aren't into it just stop coming, but online students keep doing a few things, but they won't just drop the class. It's really crazy. I have a quiz every week, and they have to contribute to online discussions every week, and there are a number of students who only do one or the other. I have a student who has been in my class for four semesters in a row. He's never done anything more than take a few quizzes, yet he keeps signing up for the class. If he was on financial aid it is likely pulled by now, yet he keeps taking the class. The article is definitely right, though, in that online is good for driven students. For others, I think it's a disaster.

  • They're not outlawing "normal" colleges here so I don't see what the problem is. This is just a different delivery mechanism. This quote: "which means that they spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return" really bothers me. Nobody is forcing anyone to spend hard-earned dollars. Such a co-dependent approach to education is why colleges are increasingly getting the reputation for pandering to the lowest common denominator.
    • by Grashnak (1003791)


      This would seem to be a problem that will fix itself through natural selection... If you're incapable of passing an online course you'll either stop taking online courses or get kicked out of school. Either way, I'm not sure that's a problem with the online course.

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Agreed. I think students considering online courses should just be made aware of the differences. I probably wouldn't have been able to do it when I was fresh out of high school. Hell, I had a hard enough time making myself go to class - no way I would have been able to have the discipline to set aside time to study material on my own, work problems, get online and post questions, etc.

      I'm currently taking some classes online - I've been able to keep up with it mostly because I *am* self motivated now.
    • I thought the same thing. "hey spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return." Isn't a problem for the university, that's a problem for the student. Another poster described the same student repeatedly signing up for the course and failing for non-participation. A good mechanism for the college to drain "students" dry. When I was in grad school, I could almost always tell the students who were paying a good amount out of pocket (determined, focused, a pleasure to be on assignments with) from t
  • by Huntr (951770) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:53PM (#42960773)

    Right now, my wife is taking 2 courses online from a local CC, before she returns to school this fall to finish her B.A. Although we generally like it because these classes have a TON of helpful ancillary materials (video lectures, practice quizzes, practice homework, etc) and the instructors for both have been very responsive to electronic communications, there are still difficulties not associated with the regular classroom experience.

    One of my biggest peeves with it is that, at times you're working to figure out the system, in addition to the school work. For example, it can be a real struggle, if the directions are sufficiently vague, to determine the desired format of an answer. One of her classes is an algebra class. Getting the correct answer isn't hard. Earning proper credit for that correct answer by determining if the program wants you to actually simplify the answer when it says "Simplify" is something else entirely. Really frustrating when you know the grading experience would be much better if this was a face to face, human graded deal.

  • I'd like to see some more detailed data on a course by course basis (or in different programs). I've taken some bio courses that are about 95% pure memorization - I'd be inclined to think the online courses like this wouldn't have 90% attrition rates. Conversely, I'd be lost in some math or comp sci courses without a teacher explaining how a concept or formula actually works. Some classes have a lot more students asking teachers than others.
  • by nullhero (2983) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:59PM (#42960805) Journal
    Having just spent some time at a Community College and was successful in receiving my Associates to continue to a Traditional Four Year school, and being someone who needed to take Online Courses. The biggest problem that I had was that the instructors did not take it as seriously as their traditional classes. They would spend the face to face time in the classroom and even in their office. But they wouldn't spend the online time with their online students. I've instructors that stated they could be reached by email and there would be 48 hour turn around time, others stated that they would use Skype and even have office hours for that. But most of my emails were answered a week after I needed assistance. And forget about ever finding the instructor on Skype at the times they stated.

    Now, the best online instructor I had ran a forum and that really worked. Everyone could see someone's questions and even respond to it but the biggest thing was that by each Saturday afternoon the instructor had responded as well. And if he felt that it was something that needed to be one on one, we would receive a detailed email. But he was, unfortunately, the exception.

    With the problems you could take it up with the school but ultimately I never received answers just my grades seemed to be better than I expected, which I felt wasn't the right way to handle it. I think the schools are a little out of touch and nervous about online classes due to the testing of the students. Mine packaged the class and rotated the tests every other semester but the test pool came from the publisher and it wasn't hard to gain access to it. I didn't feel that some of the classes I was taught as just repackaging the answers from the book.

    My best online instructor, well he had actually made us write in the answers. No multiple choice, nor true/false, according to some students who took his class in person stated he hated them, and nothing seemed to be coming from the publisher, we had to truly think about our answer and give an answer. So no instant knowledge of the answer and when we received a grade we all felt that we earned it and learned something. I actually understood the subject which happened to be Physics. BTW: I received a 'B' in the class I missed an 'A' by a few points on an online lab but I still felt that I learned more in that online class than the other dozen courses I took online.

    My experience, if a school has an online course, then the instructor has to run it just like she was face to face and make time for the students questions because there seemed to be a lot more questions online than the students who were face to face. Why? I dunno but I think it had more to do with the course being a one size fits all packaged course versus the instructor actually has to have a discussion of the subject. I think that schools need to make sure their instructors are teaching and not use those publisher online courses. I don't blame the instructor for the online material just not being 'there' with the students.

    • I took online courses at a university that has been doing them since the late 90s. It was basically the same recorded lectures back then. The big difference was the university I went to required a minimum GPA in order to allow people to take online courses which kept the attrition levels low (most courses I noticed about 10% tops). They also required students that lived near the campus to take a fully proctored midterm and a final (they were on Saturdays), which was the majority. I mostly took online cours
  • This just in... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grashnak (1003791) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:04PM (#42960831)

    Taking online courses for credit requires self-discipline that not everyone has. Film at 11.

  • I've done both. Don't knock online courses. Many American universities are putting their lectures and course materials online. If you're motivated, this is a treasure trove and makes available education to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to do it.

    To do anything at home though, you have to be highly motivated and have a work environment where you won't be interrupted. If you live with other people - and let's face it - most of us do - it can be hard for them to understand that, but this is true of any
  • Most of the so-called innovative ideas are really just a way to filter those easy to educate into cheaper platform. Some of these, like Kahn academy are harmless. Other, such as charter schools, can be more of leech on the educational dollars. High stakes testing is simply a method to transfer money from the tax payer to Pearsons.

    For the online college courses, the issue is really cost. If the courses are pay for service, then we need to educate high school counselors and kids that they are likely not

  • I went to college when technologies like Blackboard were just beginning to come to fruition. The problem I've always had with online courses is that they give you no added incentive to do to the work. Motivation may be its own reward for some people, but I still need that subtle "mental push" to succeed. A class set in an actual classroom gives my brain some reason to be there and do the work. Online courses just makes me think they're available "whenever." The concept of deadlines and necessity quickl
  • by buybuydandavis (644487) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:39PM (#42961169)

    Barriers and costs to entry and exit are lower online, less committed people join, therefore you get more drops.

    And yes, there are motivational advantages with a teacher standing there holding your hand. If you need your hand held, find someone to hold it.

    I'd note that the other side of that pancake are the people who do better with the relative privacy of online learning. Some people with a relative lack of education or intelligence don't want to be put in a classroom setting displaying their relative lack of talents to all.

    Life is full off trade offs.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      I was all set to agree unconditionally, but you kinda went off the rails at the end there. It may be a lack of confidence, which isn't necessarily the same as a lack of education or intelligence. Or it could be a less costly way to audit a class. Or, it could be someone trying to retrain for a different career, who isn't comfortable in a classroom where the students are young enough to be his children -- or grandchildren.

      Personally, I like taking classes in person so I can leer at... wait am I still talk

  • It's the teaching (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:41PM (#42961179) Homepage Journal

    I've been taking online courses for two years(*), and my conclusion is: it's not the subject, it's the presentation.

    I've come to the realization that college professors - even highly esteemed professors from highly esteemed universities - don't know much about the actual technique of teaching, nor of presentation.

    Every course I've seen so far goes against the grain of how we learn, or has features which repel attention. Droning talk with hypnotic rhythm, no vocal variety, poor spacing and timing, and filled with pauses and disfluencies which put the student to sleep (Daphne Koller, Stanford []). Tedious derivations with no initial apparent purpose and no apparent endpoint which go on and on, suddenly ending with simple result (Anant Agarwal, MIT []). Pointless exercise and homework with no apparent relevance to the subject (Richard Buckland, UNSW []). The list is endless.

    People who give lectures for a living - public speakers, professional salesmen, life coaches, and so on - have this figured out. They *have* to, because their livelihood depends on it. Their presentation has to capture interest, have relevance, have value to the listener, and be easily understood.

    College professors sing to a captive audience with no feedback. If students don't do well, it's because of the course content; or it's because the students are not "Stanford level" or whatever. Stanford is considered tough, but no one ever wonders whether it's because the quality of teaching is low. Colleges aren't rated highly when they can teach anyone, they are rated highly when they can only teach the top students.

    The typical online course just videotapes a lecture and throws it up on the net with some homework and grading software. There is no rehearsal, no redoing of bloopers or flubs, nothing one would get in a professionally-made video. The homework is generally "one question per concept" and is often "get it right the first time". No room for experimentation, multiple practice, or exploration. No feedback or watching the professor run through an example.

    They wonder why the attrition rate is so low, it's obvious.

    It's because their methods are just bloody awful.

    (Note: I've scored high 90's in each course so far. The material isn't that tough, if you've ever had a good professor you know how understanding is easy when well presented. Blaming the content or the student is a dodge - very little is difficult to understand if it is taught well.)

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > I've been taking online courses for two years(*), and my conclusion is: it's not the subject, it's the presentation.

      The last class I took online, the students were having a difficult time understanding the instructor, who was simply reading the overheads to us and deferring difficult questions. While the class was in session, I did a linkedin search on the instructor's name, saw that he was a contractor in India. Yes, the online curriculum had been outsourced.

      So yes, it is not the subject, it really i

  • Charge them Ivy League rates and yo'll see the attrition rate drop significantly. The courses will have far fewer takers in the first place though.

    When you're giving something away, whether it's a somebody else's copyrighted media, porn, or free beer, you'll get a far larger audience than would be willing to buy the product with a price tag.

  • when taking a test for an online course, you can open a second browser and cut and paste the question, and be offered the right answer from any number of websites for a buck.
  • So. Key findings. OnlineTraditionalHybrid for attrition and performance. Hybrid means much greater time investment. For hybrid to succeed, you need a lot of factors working together. Students need to know what they're doing. Face to face classes need to be more student centered/fluid. Faculty need to be given sufficient professional development. LMS coherence is important. Tenured faculty will want to stick with what they've been doing for years. Student body makeup is important. CS students age ~20 will d
  • Apples and Oranges (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:48PM (#42961683) Homepage
    When I sign up for a physical bricks and mortar course I will typically be paying for it, consider which course I want very carefully, and then set time aside in my week. But when I sign up for say a Coursera (Love them) course I will click enroll willy-nilly. I am perfectly happy to dip my toe in the water and see if the course is for me or if the person doing the course has any idea what they are doing. For example, I recently took a Cryptography course. The professor knew how to run the tutorials. The workload was about right and the quiz / exam questions were on material somewhat covered by the course. My daughter signed up for a Coursera Pre-calculus math course and withrew after attempting the first week. The course was a mess of dog crap. They had nearly zero idea how to properly use the coursera system and the tutorials were odd. Then worst of all when she went to enter the answers it was rejecting answers that were simple and correct.

    At the present time the simple problem is one of editorial and production. I would say that few of the people creating these moocs have any real experience; nor do they seem to be getting much direction. If you compare the videos to say those in the great courses there is no comparison. Also there are the fundamentals such as workload; it is too easy to have an assignment where you ask the students to do things that will require way too much work. Or like a recent Game Theory course I have been taking does: ask questions on material they didn't really cover.

    But time should take care of this. If the people running the courses are getting good feedback from the questions then they will slowly iterate their courses into something great.

    What I do agree on is that there is going to be a sea change in those who are able to thrive in modern education. In the past, as an employer you can look at a collage grad and know that they showed up every day and did their time. But with online courses you will basically know that the student has done the work (ignore cheating for the moment) but did they binge and do the course in a caffeine fueled weekend in the last minute? Did they do it slowly or are they a god and pounded out a whole degree in a summer? This isn't necessarily better or worse but it will be different.

    But there are two areas where it will get far better and far worse. First the better will be that an amazing opportunity will now be available for people to better themselves who would never have been able to. This applies to both people in distant countries with few educational opportunities and people who are trapped in situations here in the western world such as dropping out of school to provide for a family. Online education will be like a night school GED on mega steroids. The area where it will be far worse will be that you can now get an education without any of the hidden benefits such as social interaction, social interaction, and meeting amazing people socially. Meeting people with similar interests is one of the great things about a physical school as beyond the satisfaction it provides it also provides future networking, and present development of ideas and businesses. It is possible to interact with people in a forum but something is usually missing.

    I am not sure that it is the greatest loss if undisciplined and unfocused people end up dropping out. I have met too many programmers who did have that piece of paper but were unable to contribute squato.
    • I will say it's as simple as that. You're correct if you're a smart or very high IQ person and you're presented with an online course and they basically give it all to you at once then you can breeze right through it. This is something a very smart person can do, but a person who is not as smart would never be able to do that and would benefit from a slower paced classroom style instruction.

      There are pros and cons for both. In certain subjects and classes it's better to be in person because the subject is v

  • I pioneered online learning back in 1994 [] with the Internet. After a year of struggling with online learning with post secondary learners and the problems that they faced, I came quickly to the conclusion that nothing beats face to face learning. I wrote up a multipage report on the problems and presented it to the Dean of our department. The report was ignored, shelved and never read. The attitude was that I must of been doing something wrong and that they could do it better.

    Almost 20 years later, the same

    • by blanchae (965013)

      Forgot to mention one last thing: assimilation of information. One thing that many educators fail to realize is that it takes time to assimilate information. People require time to learn. In between learning, they need to relax and think about the subject. Sometimes, it just means not even thinking about it for a while. They may need a couple of days, just to let it all sink in.

      A typical course is presented over a period of months, a couple of days per week and only a couple of hours per day. It gives you

    • by elucido (870205)

      I pioneered online learning back in 1994 [] with the Internet. After a year of struggling with online learning with post secondary learners and the problems that they faced, I came quickly to the conclusion that nothing beats face to face learning. I wrote up a multipage report on the problems and presented it to the Dean of our department. The report was ignored, shelved and never read. The attitude was that I must of been doing something wrong and that they could do it better.

      Almost 20 years later, the same problems are occuring for online learning, it focuses on one predominat learning style: seeing. There are 4 basic learning styles: seeing, hearing, doing and thinking. The "seeing" learning style is characterized by a person who can pickup a book or read a webpage and gather knowledge in that manner. A "hearing" oriented learning, learns by listening. They are characterized by being able to follow verbal instructions or directions easily: "go two blocks North, turn left, go 4 blocks then turn right next to the blue garbage bin, etc..".
      The "doing" learning style, learns by doing the work, this is the best way to learn. Our institute is heavily loaded with lab work, up to 50% of classroom time is spent in the lab. Another way to re-inforce doing is by taking notes, either through pen and paper or laptop. The last learning style is "thinking". A person who is predominantly a thinker will have to "think" about what was said or presented to him in order to understand. They "go away" for a little while to assimilate the information then return back to the conversation. A typical reaction from a thinker is that they will briefly look away when you tell them something new.
      Nobody has just one learning style, we have combinations of all 4 and are predominate with one or two.

      If I gave a University theatre style lecture, no interaction with the students, straight power point presentations with powerpoint handouts already given out, the students will remember about 10-15% after 3 days. If it was a smaller class size of 30 students or less, interactive questions between the students and instructors, note taking, then after 3 days, the students will remember about 30%. If it was a lab with hands on exercises and interaction, the students will remember about 80% after 3 days.

      Online learning fails by not delivering multiple learning styles and by missing the teacher/student interaction. It falls somewhere in the University large theatre learning results - that's why the high failure rate. Often, it takes a person to explain how things work. I found that the majority of students were particularly hesistant to use online tools (email, forums, blogs, twitter, 1-800 numbers) to contact the instructor to ask questions when things didn't make sense. They preferred to struggle "days" trying to figure it out until they could meet face to face.

      The best learning is obviously "to do", my preference is to have no theory classes, just lab classes and pass on the information on a need to know basis. It's time to do this lab, this is what you need to know to do this. In the past, I've found that no matter how many times, you talk about a particular topic: in the classroom, online, at the beginning of a lab, it will be forgotten until the time is right and the student is ready for the information. In one course, I used to repeat the same explanation to each student in the lab when they needed to know it. I would repeat the exact same 5 minute explanation over 100 times a week. The students appreciated the one on one time and I got really good at explaining it! LOL.

      The problem with having "just lab" classes, is that it flies in the face of everything that Universities teach about learning. The mantra is present the material, give an example, students practice the material and then assess the students. That is the "best practice" (I hate that phrase!) teaching method. In my labs, I don't feel that it is right to be assessed on the first time that you attempt something. Where's the learning in that? How about the first time, you attempt to drive a car, you have to take the driver's exam? In my labs, you do the lab until it is right, make as many errors as you want, no sign-off until it works to my satisfaction and the student shows an understaning of the lab. Then the student is assessed.
      The other issue is that labs cost money. Small lab/class sizes are expensive compared to large theatres on a cost per student basis. Large theatre size classes are money makers.

      Not in my experience. If you're a self motivated student nothing stops you from opening up Youtube videos on your subject to learn faster. The professor if they are good will even recommend some online resources which allow you to see, hear, etc. I do think you're correct in one area, when it comes to gaining practical hands on experience online classes completely suck. If you've got to learn a set of tools and you cannot practice as easily online as you can in a lab that sucks. Also the lack of social inte

  • Research has shown that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes, which means that they spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return. Worse still, low-performing students who may be just barely hanging on in traditional classes tend to fall even further behind in online courses. 'Colleges need to improve online courses before they deploy them widely,'

    Or there needs to be more competition in online courses to bring the costs down. I think it's fine to have products that most people are not self-disciplined enough to fully exploit. If an online course can be offered to a 1000x as many people for the same cost to the university, the free market will drive the cost down 1000x to students. I wouldn't mind flunking out of online school if it only costs me $50 instead of $50,000

  • Can someone remind me what problem is supposed to be addressed by online college course?

    I read it does not perform very well. This is a drawback compared to traditional courses, but what is the advantage?

    • by kenh (9056)

      It allows motivated students to study on their own schedule.

      It also allows unmotivated students to accumulate massive amounts of debt...

    • It has advantages. One advantage is there is no slowing down the class so the rest of the students can catch up. The classes move at a much faster pace than ordinary classes. In fact some classes let you do the next 2 weeks assignments ahead of time. If you're a motivated hard working smart student you'll do fine but if you're not that kind of student or if you're in the wrong major you'll fail hard.

    • Well, the problem that I didn't have the opportunity to take an abstract algebra course back in college, because there wasn't one available there.

      Also the problem that I couldn't take a Scala course, because there wasn't one available anywhere back then.

      I have free time, but not the opportunity to become a student again (much as I would enjoy to).

      From my perspective, MOOCs solve plenty of problems.

  • For example the technical computer science or information security classes which require computer labs are not better because at this point in time the virtual labs tend to be very slow. As far as how good it is for the students, I would not recommend online classes for undergrad. For graduate students it's fine but for undergrad they aren't going to have the skill or expertise to actually do certain subjects well without asking questions or going for help.

    I wouldn't for instance take a math class online. F

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