In the Chronicle, Ryan Brown reports the findings of a Columbia University study which concludes that online students fail and drop out more often than those whose coursework is classroom-based.
Regarding the variables that affected performance, one of the co-authors of the study, Shanna S. Jaggars, says:
Lower completion rates in online courses often boil down to a combination of technical difficulties, a lack of structure, and isolation. Online students often have little training in how to navigate the online interfaces of their courses and struggle to manage their coursework without the grounding of weekly class meetings.
I’ve taught online since 2004, and I’ve never had a student fail because of technical difficulties. Good students know how to solve those problems.
On the other hand, I’ve seen students with below a 2.5 GPA fail my course at around a 50 percent clip. Students who have failed a previous online course also tend to have difficulty in my courses.
While it’s unpopular with some administrators, I advocate enrollment filters in online classes (e.g. GPA) that maximize the probability of student success. Regardless of how wonderful it sounds to “allow easy access to college for busy working adults,” colleges do need to think about whether online education is a substitute for, or a complement to, traditional classes.