The rush to online education requires a learning curve

ISSUE: Online vs. traditional teaching

OUR VIEW: Distance learning here to stay, but establishing effectiveness is ongoing process

In an online world, the news is cause for at least a pause.

Looking for ways to ensure that people are getting the education needed for today’s world includes such basics as being certain students remain in the educational system. Beyond that, there is the cost barrier beyond the primary and secondary levels. And there is a necessity for serious consideration for how teaching is to be done, particularly with the delivery of education via the Internet.

Score one for the traditional. Key findings of a new study co-authored by a Clemson University researcher and published in the most recent issue of Black History Bulletin indicate students taking traditional, in-class science courses reported higher perceived learning gains than students enrolled in online distance-education science courses.

Notably, African-American students taking traditional science courses self-reported greater learning gains than students taking online science courses.

The purpose of the study, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation sub-awarded to Clemson through Fayetteville State University, was to estimate the effects of online distance education and explore African-American college students’ perceived learning outcomes in science courses.

“Given the dramatic shift in the way that many postsecondary institutions now offer educational programs to students, it is imperative that we examine the effects of online distance-education programs on student outcomes,” said Lamont A. Flowers, lead author on the study, distinguished professor of educational leadership and executive director of the Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education at Clemson.

The expansion of online distance-education courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines challenges the higher education community to examine the efficacy of online courses on students’ educational outcomes at postsecondary institutions, the researchers said.

“It is imperative that researchers continue to conduct studies that employ rigorous procedures to examine the cognitive effects and educational impact of online distance education experiences institutional types, including historically black colleges and universities,” Flowers said.

Acknowledging that teaching in an online environment in more than simply transferring materials to students electronically and conducting traditional sessions virtually, the study suggests that faculty who teach in online learning environments “may need to incorporate innovative instructional designs that enhance student-faculty interaction in online courses.”

“The statistical results indicate that faculty should develop strategies to ensure that online courses provide similar learning gains as traditional face-to-face courses by utilizing instructional approaches and educational technologies to strengthen online distance education,” Flowers said.

In a nutshell, the teacher has as much to learn about teaching in the online world as students have to learn from the courses they are being taught. While studies such as the one referenced here are important as evaluation on a large scale, the most important key to successful online education, which is here to stay, is continuous dialogue between faculty and students as courses unfold.

Educators’ willingness to make adjustments is imperative. As noted, even the most experienced educator must learn in the brave new world of online teaching.


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