Despite the excitement over online courses, it’s become very clear that it isn’t all that easy to succeed in them for any student. Critics have highlighted some significant problems with online education:
- There is a high attrition rate among community college students; as The New York Times explains, “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.”
- Statistics show that students in online courses are much less likely to complete those courses than students in traditional face-to-face courses.
- There have also been some high-profile failures in MOOCs, the newest online course format. San Jose State University recently canceled five of its Udacity-sponsored massive open online courses (MOOCs), which had the California governor’s very public support, because 56% of the students failed their exams. Coursera was even forced to drop a MOOC on, of all things, online learning, when technical problems proved overwhelming.
But online courses may be a valid and exciting opportunity for millions of students who do not have access to specific courses at their colleges, or have a difficult schedule that makes it hard for them to commit to traditional courses. If you are one of these students, what can you do to make sure you don’t become a statistic, another body on the trash heap of online education?
While there’s never a guarantee of success for any student in any class, the following suggestions can make your online education experience easier to manage and increase your chances of successful course completion:
- Use online textbook supplements. This is an important suggestion even for students in traditional courses. In my experience, students barely read the table of contents in their regular textbooks, let alone any of the bountiful extras available online. These days, textbooks provide interactive quizzes, additional explanations, links to useful websites, timelines, chapter outlines, practice problem sets, etc. You can use all of these to master the chapter information. Caveat: You usually need a code from the publisher to access online supplements, and these often don’t come with used textbooks. Check this out before you buy.
- Take advantage of free online courses as supplements for all your courses. Let’s say you are enrolled in introductory biology and don’t understand some of the concepts. Don’t be afraid to look outside of your own course’s materials for extra help. For example, you could review the material in “Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life” offered by edX, the MOOC provider operated by Harvard and MIT universities. The Saylor Foundation also offers a wide range of 278 courses across many disciplines that you can review for additional support [Full disclosure: I helped create some of the History courses it offers.]
- Try online tutoring. Your own college, whether online or campus-based, probably offers tutoring services. For example, the University of Phoenix offers a Center for Mathematics Excellence that helps students at all levels of achievement. Many online tutoring companies also offer services at a variety of rates, but it’s important to be careful and investigate service provider to make sure they are legitimate. As I discovered when I went undercover at one company, they are often not real “tutoring” services but exist only to help students cheat.
- Schedule regular online appointments with faculty. If you are struggling in any of your courses, the best resource available to you is your instructor, who knows the material and understands the course requirements. This may be especially true for online students. The New York Times reports that, to succeed, online students “need engagement with their teachers to feel comfortable and to succeed. What they often get online is estrangement from the instructor who rarely can get to know them directly.” Not all of your instructors will be able to devote much time to any individual student, but if you can connect with them at all, it’s probably a good idea.
- Take advantage of your school’s academic advisors and online “early alert” system to stay on track. Some schools, like those in the Lone Star College System, have built useful structures into their online systems to email students who have not logged in to the course in a while and work with that students’ instructor to resolve any issues. Contact your college’s advising or student affairs office for more information about the services they provide.
- Form or join an online study group. Chances are that there are many students enrolled in your course, and if it’s a MOOC there may be thousands enrolled in it. As you participate in your online chats and discussions, pay attention to your fellow students. Does anyone seem especially organized, able to explain things articulately? Follow their comments, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them for assistance. Even better, invite them to help you form an online study group. Or, you can use a for-profit service such as Open Study, where for a fee you can join study groups with people around the world to learn their tips and explanations on subject you find challenging.
- Participate in online student support groups. There’s no getting around it: online education can be lonely. Even if you are an active participant in your course’s required chats, you can feel isolated or have difficulty managing your educational experiences. There may, for example, be issues outside of course content that seem overwhelming or challenging. That’s where online support groups can come in handy. With a little exploration, you will find that there is an online group for almost every circumstance, including one for students trying to manage their medical issues while enrolled in college. Similarly, there is a Facebook page for disabled college students. The opportunities for online support are not limited to undergraduates, either: as any graduate student will tell you, the process of writing a thesis or dissertations can be overwhelming. Phinished is a useful support group to provide collegial support from others in the same situation.
All students, at one time or another, struggle to improve their academic skills. For online students, or even traditional students who want to do this but are intimidated by their face-to-face classes, online resources can really help you develop your abilities, conquer difficult or challenging topics, and give you the support you need to maintain your morale and make it through a course or degree program. Don’t become a failure statistic – the help you need is, to employ a cliché, right at your fingertips!
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog