The first word that comes to my mind referring to online learning environment is flexibility. As Stanford-Bowers, D. (2008) puts it, “online learning allows students greater flexibility in building a course schedule that caters to their lifestyle” (p. 1).
In contrast to the traditional classes, online learning offers more flexibility and can fit any schedule making it easier to keep up with work and family balance. Apart from wider variety of programs to choose from, which are not available in certain area, online learning appeals majority with accelerated pace providing fast-track to finish for those who wish faster completion.
However, while scrutinizing scholarly articles, great many cases of students’ dropping out online courses have become evident through the literature. Thus, I have been bewildered with a question: What are the reasons of online students dropping out the course? I believe that it is high time to challenge this issue now as we are standing at the threshold of building online learning communities. As cited by Corry, M. (2014), “high attrition rates continue to be a concern for academic leaders as they feel this remains a barrier to the growth of online instruction (Allen & Seaman, 2013; Xu & Jaggars, 2011; Zatynsky, 2013, p.11).
Corry, M. in his article Transforming and Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: The Role of Online Learning covers the benefits of online learning and challenges students face during their studies. According to Corry, M. (2014), possible explanations for high attrition rates in online learning environments have been attributed to “technical challenges, difficulties navigating the online platform, a sense of isolation, lack of face-to-face accountability, personal obligations, and general lack of support” (p. 11).
Conducting the review and meta-analysis of the literature, Corry, M. (2014) found out that online learning has the potential to be a core strategy for curricular reform, offering:
a. broad band: able to reach more students at any place and at any time increasing the availability for all students;
b. flexibility: offers students opportunities to learn at their own pace with expanded learning time to master complex content;
c. broadly accessible content: provides a range of topics, complexity;
d. continuous access to a variety of learning materials (p. 23).
I cannot but agree with Corry with the fact that the backbone of online learning is accent to a broad access for all students regardless the area they live, along with providing opportunities for them to recover course credit. In addition to flexible and self-paced nature of online learning, such courses provide highly differentiated environments allowing for personalized learning.
However, apart from well-known and often cited benefits of online learning, what are its main drawbacks?
I believe that the main challenge lies in virtual not eye-to-eye contact with instructors – lack of instructors’ supervision, support or not sufficient live feedback. Therefore, every online learner should remember that just because the instructor is not in the same room with him/her, does not mean that he/she is not available. Before the course starts, it is vital to talk to supervisor, develop study schedule that will delineates study time and will not conflict with work and life balance.
Certainly, there can be some technical difficulties since it is online course and needs technical support. I would not honestly call it a challenge as you merely need to make sure your computer is set up to run the course along with reliable internet connection.
The second article that I found worthwhile to share is an article by Batts, D. Comparison of Student and Instructor Perceptions of Best Practices in Online Technology Courses. In the article he reflects Seven Principles that have been employed to set standards for undergraduate education. As cited by Batts, D. (2008), Cross (1999) stated that “the best known, certainly the most widely distributed list, is the ‘Seven Principles for Good Practice”:
- Principle One states that good practice promotes student-faculty contact and enhances student’s motivation, intellectual commitment and the students’ personal development (Chickering & Gamson, 1991);
- Principle Two emphasizes cooperation among students;
- Principle Three encourages active learning;
- Principle Four stresses prompt feedback referring to instructor’s efficiently providing feedback on assignments, quizzes, tests and questions;
- Principle Five emphasizes time on task. As cited by Batts, D. (2008), Chickering and Gamson (1991) noted that, “there is some evidence that effective use of time in the college classroom means effective teaching for faculty and effective learning for students” (p.20);
- Principle Six encourages high expectations and maintains that instructors must develop high student goals which are also attainable. Chickering and Gamson (1991) reported that high expectations are crucial for all types of students;
- Principle Seven focuses on respect on diverse talents and ways of learning. Chickering and Gamson (1991) noted that “Faculty who show respect for their students’ unique interests and talents are likely to facilitate students growth and development in every sphere – academic, social, personal, and vocational” (p. 20).
These principles represent collaborative expert opinion and are built on 50 years of research on good practices. I totally agree and accept the idea without reserve that in order to be successful and not being doomed to failure, online students should exhibit and possess some characteristics. In terms of technical issues, it is, for instance, having an appropriate technology and being able to use this technology effectively. Regarding environmental factors, it is having an appropriate time-space management skills. As far as personal factors are concerned, it is possessing a healthy balance between study and “the rest of life”. From my own observations studying at Master’s, I would also stress various learning characteristics important to drive the successful completion of the course that are more independent and self-directed learning style, as well as better-than-average reading skills and being able to communicate well in writing.
How to be persistent in online learning environment and not to be destined for failure?
I think it is all about self-discipline. Being what means having an ability to self-manage time, ability to cope with non-structured settings and even often checking email. And it is motivation. Motivation is an extremely important characteristic for any student and particularly for the online learner. Online learners must utilize a different level of initiative and self-discipline that students in traditional classes may not possess.
And what positive either negative experience of inline leaning can you share?
Batts, D. (2008). Comparison of Student and Instructor Perceptions of Best Practices in Online Technology Courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(4). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol4no4/batts_1208.pdf
Corry, M. (2014). Transforming and Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: The Role of Online Learning. Journal of Educators Online, 1-30. Retrieved from ERIC http://eric.ed.gov/?q=Transforming+and+Turning+Around+Low-Performing+Schools%3a+The+Role+of+Online+Learning&id=EJ1033256
Stanford-Bowers, D. (2008). Persistence in Online Classes: A Study of Perceptions among Communty College Stakeholders. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(1). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol4no1/stanford-bowers0308.pdf