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+pacansky-brock Students Feel Successful In Online Learning When Community Is Built
By Wayne Pacinski
There are many reasons to attend online courses, but learning can be particularly satisfying when students connect with other classmates over the web. “Community is when,” says Chuck Mintz, a professor at USC’s Stern School of Business.
In a separate study conducted by Mintz, Bradford Townsend, a professor at Pepperdine University, and their colleagues, only 30 percent of undergraduates attending online classes say the learning experience has made them better business people.
They concluded that students who participated in online classes had greater success because they felt connected with classmates, had the company of other people throughout their courses, and made friends.
When Not to Do It
Liz Adams, the senior director of strategies for RankUp, the data-analysis and behavioral-based-learning firm, agrees with Mintz and Townsend on the benefits of community. “It’s about engagement,” she says. “The best outcome is to engage students and remain engaged because they won’t stay on track when they’re not engaged.”
For the third study, a USC psychology professor measured student engagement in the traditional versus online model, which was conducted with 400 students enrolled in a management-integration course.
The study showed students were engaging with the course content more in the online version than in the traditional class, but they were less engaged than their peers in sitting in lecture or participating in discussion during class time.
The reason for this? A student who wasn’t engaged in class might have trouble joining with classmates online, so he or she is less likely to participate.
To explain this trend, the USC authors wrote, “Deficit versus surplus in online learning is most stark when the community of students is a captive group.”
Aligning Your Community
“What’s the difference between public and private universities?” asks Mills College Professor David Moore. “Many consider the publics ‘culturally integrated’ — you enter and leave.”
Mills students study four years, which means a regular, personal connection with professors, staff, and peers. The connection isn’t solely through e-mail, of course, but students often take a class together.
As the University of Minnesota English Department Head, Joanna Hahn, explains, “Students who are studying here are not separated by ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. In other words, they’re college friends, and it’s safe to say that they have developed more of a bond.”
The downside of community, however, is low participation rates. Only 10 percent of Mills students take a class together.
Connecting With Industry in School
While research shows students are more engaged when they are also learning something relevant to their industry, Northwestern University Assistant Professor Kent Robinson and Associates examined 1,052 students’ networking experiences during the 2017-2018 academic year.
The students had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion during online classes from business and academic mentors in similar fields. The four peer mentors went to a first-year seminar, then recruited students for the panel; they subsequently led alumni over to meet the students.
“When students were asked what they needed to improve networking,” says Robinson, “they said they needed more opportunities to meet people in their career field and improve their skills. They were also eager to know how to pursue career fulfillment outside of work.”
While socializing in school definitely benefits students, isn’t the fastest way to achieve career success connections? Overcoming social barriers and confidence won’t happen in an online class. Many millennials agree.
The Best Way To Connect Is Online
“A good teacher makes you feel welcome and sees the value of your questions and recommendations,” says Taylor Czaja, who is pursuing a degree in accounting from Hofstra University.
For many students, this face-to-face personal connection is the best connection. Mintz says, “A model of study that doesn’t actually facilitate socializing is just not optimal.”