One of the assigned readings for our pre-residency was the aformentioned title.  Dutifully, I dug in…

What caught my attention immediately is the sheer number of online courses available.  That leads to two questions – one, who creates these courses?  And second, who takes these courses?

This article focuses on the latter question, and outlines what key components lead to a successful online student.  The article suggests – accurately – that not all students are cut out for online learning; the external and internal pressures are certainly different than more traditional forms of education.  Attrition rates are certainly higher.  I found this statistic very interesting; I am a teacher in an inner city high school, and many students who fail courses in the regular stream are encouraged to retake them online.  In fact, I have been given an opportunity to run the “e-learning centre”, where these students will be given computer access during the regular school schedule to complete these online courses.  But if attrition rates are higher in online courses, will these students accomplish what they set out to do?

The answer seems to lie in what type of student they are, as well as several other external factors.  The first factor was technical factor.  Certainly access to a computer is important, but skills in using the computer are also invaluable.  And to expect that students have the skills to successfully navigate an online course is often dangerously naive.  I have learned this firsthand by offering a course through Desire2Learn (D2L) – students had difficulty submitting assignments, or even finding the assignments in the first place.

The second factor related to a student’s environment – was their workspace conducive to learning? Were family members supportive of their efforts? Did the student actually have regular time to commit to the course?  A lot of students in my experience chose an online course in the hopes of “fast-tracking” their way to completion, not realizing that an online course actually requires more time.  But the advantage of being able to chose when to work on the course is obvious, and is clearly a reason why online learning appeals to adult students.

Personal characteristics was the third factor – do wallflowers fare better in online courses, or are they for the more gregarious? One would think that those fearful of interaction with others would choose an online course, yet such courses require often more interaction than a traditional class, where a shy student could sit at the back and hope for anonymity. Motivation and self-discipline are also a definite requirement, and here is where many students in high school fall short.  If they lack the discipline to hand in assignments and complete the required reading for a traditional class, they are oft to repeat their lacklustre behaviour in an online setting…

The fourth factor was learning characteristics.  Clearly, the ability to read and write at an above average level is a key component for a course that requires, well, reading and writing. Other studies cited by the author indicated that successful online students tended to think more abstractly, and preferred the ability to self-pace.

So clearly, not all students are designed for online learning.  I found the article to be clear and concise, and certainly made me think about the online learning that I see on a daily basis in my work.  What I crave now is an article that discusses the content of these courses – yes, there are some students who are more likely to be successful, but surely there must be some courses or templates that are more likely to be successful also.  The article does mention that there are three types of online courses, but left me looking for further information.  Luckily, I seem to be in a program which will help me find the answers!

So to my colleagues, I ask – have you had successes with online courses?  Failures?  Which format or platform have you been using?

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