A new study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives has found that would rather learn by rote online learning than be guided by a hologram.
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If you thought online learning was a waste of time, think again. According to results from a recent online learning study from Brookings Institute, college graduates who enrolled in a course online could achieve more than those who opted to take a different course in a different venue.
The study examined a group of students who attempted to take courses and get a degree at three different schools. The most robust category, however, was so-called “free college.” Free college is a strategy that allows people to complete a college degree without making any large financial commitments by subscribing to a degree-paying institution and paying for training classes. Based on the results of the study, the authors determined that free college learners have consistently done better on benchmarks of reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and critical thinking than other cohort of students.
The higher scores generated by free college students, however, doesn’t mean students who spend a lot of time learning online are automatically bad at it. According to the study, students who opt to take more classes online (either a typical class or online classes) generally perform better than those who take less time to learn those courses. That’s because students who enroll in free college classes have adopted a few key traits to better make the time.
“Among free college students, students take more reading, writing, and math courses,” said Dr. Dan McCarthy, the study’s lead author and a Senior Associate at Brookings. “It also appears that the students who are most likely to do better are also the ones who need the most assistance. Free college students tend to face long and daunting learning curves, and that means they need more time to master the subjects they are taking on, particularly when it comes to complex thinking and reasoning.”
Dr. McCarthy says one of the ways to make up for lost time is to incorporate online courses into your schedule. Not only will you earn more credits if you work the hours involved in taking online courses, but you’ll increase your chances of earning a degree.
Additionally, he adds, online learning has certain advantages in certain situations. “If someone really wants to take a course because they’re going to rely on that for a job, then you can have them take that course right now, even if you are not teaching it right now,” he says. “If you’re teaching the course, then you’re going to have to look to the future and start to think about how you’re going to incorporate online into your coursework. At the end of the day, however, online learning is nothing new. But the new thing is the amount of knowledge that’s becoming available to us in the internet age.”
The study also finds that students who enroll in free college are primarily seeking out online courses because they are relatively inexpensive. Looking back over the past 10 years, free college students show a more consistent decrease in their costs of attendance on the scale of the US average, reaching their lowest prices when they enrolled at the University of the Sciences. Many students do consider online education as an option if it’s affordably priced, but the study found that only 25% of free college students said they were most concerned about the cost of their classes.
“Higher education is, of course, a complex issue, and no one has a clear-cut answer,” says Dr. McCarthy. “But our results do point to some of the key realities around being an online learner. Some advantages should be clear. As a class, students can take longer to adapt to digital learning, but it is possible that this resistance is also some level of resistance to the underlying content of the courses. And some degree of patience can be gleaned from persistence: the most resilient learners seem to do well.”