What Is The Greatest Problem For Students Learning Independently In Online Courses?

Writing to the president, major teachers’ unions, colleges and major school districts, student activists are sending this letter to address this question for all students.

Most people have heard of online courses: You know, the classes that are there on the World Wide Web and you don’t have to leave your seat to see what happens next. It’s a fantastic thing, and of course we’ve heard a lot about the advantages: you can see the instructor up close without having to pay to take a class in person; you can get actual feedback from your instructor before you do a final exam; and you can learn stuff that you’d never get to experience at a traditional college. And as such, it sounds like a pretty great thing to be able to complete all the necessary steps and get access to the information that you need.

But as for the downside of all this, that’s a big one.

The biggest problem when students take online courses for the first time is finding the instructor. This, needless to say, has a huge impact on their learning experience. Not only that, but it can have a massive impact on their confidence. As the author Sophia Petrillo noted in her recent article for Forbes, “Many students assume if they can take a class online, then they must be learning something, and anyone can enroll if they log on and claim the name and number of their instructor.”

This viewpoint is based on a common notion called the “frolic school claim”: that if you’re doing well in an online course, you must be an expert at the subject matter. But that’s actually not true. According to the 2015 Allstate American College Survey, only 19 percent of full-time students who studied one major independently were surveyed and asked their perceived strengths and weaknesses in that class. This means that the vast majority of students are lacking in knowledge and preparation for their coursework.

What the heck does this mean to anyone who is on the fence about taking on a class online? To start, the first step is actually figuring out what this education even is. The vast majority of online courses and online curriculum simply do not exist in all its forms. If you do some research on a web-based course, you’ll quickly realize that there are so many different versions that it’s extremely difficult to wrap your head around what they are. Take, for example, what the course “Why Art?” at University of California at Los Angeles is all about. Now, let’s imagine that it was, say, the 80-90 minute course “Communicating in Digital Space.” By logging on to its online course at 50 minutes after the program started, you would learn about the backstories of the creators of digital storytelling and the mechanics behind making and distributing content for a live stream. But let’s be clear: 100 percent of these courses have nothing to do with art.

Having to actually find your instructor can be incredibly frustrating. A month or so before taking any course, you could spend a lot of time exploring the course profiles of any available online master’s in the field, trying to decipher whether what you are reading qualifies as an “online” course or just a normal classroom. But then, once you’ve locked in on the area you want to focus on, you typically just log on, take a course, and then go read the online reviews. But what if there was a way to verify, like a campus ID that you could pin it to, to confirm you’re really sitting in your own living room watching a show about libraries and building societies in 1969?

To be sure, for many students, it may not be a problem to find their instructor and to develop a solid educational relationship with them. For many, though, it will be a major hindrance. But while online courses and online courses may not be 100 percent accurate, they do have one thing that they have over physical classes: trust.

I recently completed one of the highest-ranked courses in the world, with only two other students sitting next to me for the whole six weeks. I can honestly say that no other student I studied with made as much effort at learning about the subject matter, or made any mistakes. And when we gave feedback at the end of the semester, all of our feedback was equally valid.

That’s what makes online courses so fantastic: they’re offline courses, and the only time you have to share that awesome online learning experience with someone you trust is once you’ve finished it.

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