Online courses may hurt academic performance
Every year it gets more difficult for students to make decisions, and for that matter, it gets harder for individuals to make any decisions because the Internet lets us choose, then filter, and then repeat endlessly what seems like thousands of possible choices.
Web searches are no substitute for making real-world decisions
People will always look for what they want, how to get it, or where to get it, so don’t worry about the wisdom of the crowds. They could just as easily be out of school, working for the company where you’re currently employed, or looking for work.
When it comes to learning online, you get choice A, choice B, and then you get feedback in response to each decision you make, but no more. If you’re currently relying on trusting your gut, why on earth would you move toward more control over the outcome of your learning?
How Online Learning Can Hurt Academic Performance
To understand how online courses may hurt students’ academic performance, we need to know how they may hurt academic performance. The online courses that schools and corporations offer lack the robust assessment data that can help educators understand students’ experience and decide where to go next with their education. The price of online tuition may be right for some, but if online courses are designed not to help learning, and if they’re geared toward providing a work experience, they’re not likely to make students competitive in the job market.
For students, college and career readiness are often about “fits.” When evaluating a student’s success, can we understand what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what might be missing? Or are we tempted to judge students’ success largely by their performance on an end-of-course test? Those tests also tend to focus on objective indicators of the value of a major, such as test scores.
Maybe we should be looking more carefully at outcomes based on what researchers call “impact practice.” The approach tracks a student’s real-world outcomes after graduation. For example, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researcher William Fletcher uses data that dates back to 1970 to track how its alumni are faring more than three decades later, along with other measures of graduate success.
Perhaps more importantly, impact practices were the basis for some of the recommendations in the recent McKinsey Global Institute report, The Next Leap in Learning, which says that continuous improvement in teaching and learning is a critical part of our efforts to understand learning and to connect the dots between all learning.