What Students Really Think About Online Learning

College students are giving mixed responses to an online learning course that allows them to build professional connections and ultimately land jobs.

Kathryn Kauffman, president of Community Learning Centers, demonstrates a collaborative system to assist attendees of Linked Learning Planning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States, on October 30, 2018. Linked Learning is an education program using the “big data” technology at OneMe.org to design, test, scale, and analyze content that creates a personalized, online learning experience for students. (MARCUS MUNCY/AFP/Getty Images)

In the early days of the online learning movement, many business leaders got excited about using streaming media to deliver instruction in minutes. But online learning is now a thing of the past, and it’s not clear that it will ever rise again. To be sure, there is still a few places where you can find high-quality online learning experiences that keep up with traditional classrooms, but the evidence says it’s not the major school activity of the 21st century.

The truth is that online learning has run its course, and the latest trends indicate it’s not going to rise any time soon. Online learning requires massive investment and scale, not all of which is there any more. Companies such as Learning Annex, Learndeal, and CordPages don’t offer anything like the classes you might find in a physical university, they just offer online classrooms.

In the late 2000s, companies like Coursera and Udacity rolled out massive open online courses (MOOCs) like nobody’s business. For anyone who wanted to learn, from everyone, from anywhere, it felt like a new channel to higher education. In 2017, Udacity was acquired by Google, and Coursera began offering to provide highly curated courses, leaving other entrepreneurs in the dust.

“Learning is still the bedrock of higher education,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. He also added, “The main difference now is whether or not colleges can offer online education (and one will find out soon enough if it’s viable).”

There are a lot of reasons why online learning has fallen flat, including problems with maintaining data, a lack of resources to do anything in-person, and increasingly high prices.

Students want to buy an education, not earn one. Given that colleges have had a slow-burning crisis over enrolling more students since the 1970s, this has been a problem for many years. There are simply too many non-working adults enrolling in schools with high tuition fees, saddling them with large debt loads and little chance of earning much.

Once the students enrolled, some of them switched from taking actual college classes to taking company-sponsored seminars or preparing for standardized tests. This can’t be a coincidence, because these courses have little or no connection to learning and probably none of them meet the real needs of a student’s major. This is one of the reasons companies such as Coursera and Udacity have had trouble retaining customers, as customers seek higher-quality courses from the companies they know, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of classes taught on these courses are online courses.

Despite the recent business model transformations of Coursera and Udacity, the completion rate for these “online” classes is still well below 50 percent. When a student finishes the course, they move on to a new course, something that will probably never happen in a brick-and-mortar classroom, and often has little to do with actual learning.

At one point, companies like Coursera said they’d study data, tracking how students improved over time to use in the future. Unfortunately, the data they are now analyzing show very little movement.

The American Association of University Professors said in a report on MOOCs that the data on progress measurement were not consistent, and that universities did not have standardized measures of student progress. The report also pointed out that in some cases, the data seemed to be inaccurate, as many people never completed the courses.

More recently, research from Akili Interactive shows that MOOC courses take four times longer than traditional universities. In a pilot study of their app, a technology used to track progress, the researchers found that students taking MOOCs took 67 hours of actual learning compared to about 30 hours of in-person instruction. At the end of the year, students were only making one-third of the average grades they earned during traditional instruction.

It’s not a matter of dropping out from a MOOC, and student retention rates are better than the average for the real world. The problem is that they’re not meaningful enough to be worth the time and money.

Online learning is likely to die on its own, as multiple recent studies have found that the combination of a high overhead, high fees, and not much to do is increasingly unattractive to students. And even if there is more demand for

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