When I listen to conversations about online education with college educators, the dialogue almost always turns into a debate about quality. And face-to-face classes are regarded as the quality standard. Why is this a problem? Because quality has nothing to do with course modality. High quality learning occurs in both on-ground and online classes when a course is designed effectively; incorporates relevant, valid content; is taught by an engaged instructor; has meaningful activities and assessments; and students feel included.
It is time to move on and consider online classes through another lens.
Online classes serve a powerful and important function for students, particularly those from underserved populations. In fact, access is the reason fueling the growth in online classes across higher education. Students who are challenged or unable to be on campus want online classes to be available to them when they register. Being able to mix online classes with face-to-face classes supports the complex schedules of first-generation, low income, and older students — groups that are more likely to hold jobs and juggle family responsibilities while pursuing a degree.
Providing underserved students with choices between online and on-ground classes is critical to their ability to earn a degree within their targeted timeframe. A recent study showed that students who enroll in a mix of online and face-to-face classes are more likely to progress from their first year to their second year of college than students who enroll in all online classes and those who enroll in all face-to-face classes. That is a stunning finding and one that all of us should take to heart as we are asked to strategize ways to improve graduation rates.
If this topic resonates with you, click the link below to listen to the new episode of HumanizED, a podcast brought to you by Teaching & Learning Innovations at CI. In the episode, Why Online Classes Matter, I speak with Karen Swan and Karen Vignare, two pioneers in online education, and two CI seniors, Melissa Holt and Angelika Esser, who reflect on the role that online classes have played in their journey through college. Their stories may surprise you!