Online Learning And Educational Equity
Career College Central summary:
What does recent research say about online college coursework and potential implications for postsecondary access and learning? According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, online coursework is thought to improve postsecondary access by allowing some students to enroll in college who otherwise would be unable to do so, and by allowing enrolled students to take more courses than they otherwise could. Some indirect evidence suggests that these improvements in access benefit only certain segments of the population.
According to large-scale studies of online learning conducted in two different community college systems, students who enroll in at least one online course are quite different from those who opt for an entirely face-to-face schedule. As one might expect, students in online courses are older, more likely to have dependents, and more likely to be employed full-time. Yet they are also more advantaged: they are less likely to be ethnic minorities, less likely to be low-income, and less likely to be academically underprepared at college entry. In part, these students’ inclination to enroll in online courses could be rooted in their greater comfort with, and access to, computers and technology. The “digital divide” is still very real in the United States. A recent federal study found that only 55 percent of African American households and 56 percent of Hispanic households (compared with 74 percent of white households and 81 percent of Asian American households) and 58 percent of rural households (compared with 72 percent of urban households) had broadband Internet at home.
Among community college students who take online courses, most take only one or two per semester, filling the remainder of their schedule with face-to-face courses. In qualitative interviews, Virginia community college students enrolled in online courses—many of whom had children and full-time jobs—explained that one or two online courses per semester allowed them to maintain a full-time college schedule, which otherwise would be difficult or impossible. Still, very few of these students were interested in taking all their courses online. Similarly, a recent Public Agenda (2013) survey of community college students taking online courses found that these students were more likely to want to take fewer classes online (41 percent) rather than more classes online (20 percent).
Online students say they do not learn material as well online as they do face-to-face. Similarly, students in the Public Agenda survey were more likely to say that they learned less in an online course (42 percent) than that they learned more (3 percent) (2013).
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ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES