Online Learning: Why Students Want Quality Over Convenience
What are the defining features of a quality educational experience?
Without thinking much about it, we would probably cite elements like knowledgeable and responsive instructors, clearly structured curriculum, and engaging learning activities.
In the current educational climate, where online learning increasingly is becoming the norm, the question arises whether these qualities still matter. After all, most students take courses online because of the demands of their schedule. It seems that in this context, convenience would be a top concern.
But the data says otherwise.
What Students Truly Want
A 2017 study of online college students showed that they place a high value on a sense of community and connection. They want to feel connected to their instructor and they want a feeling of group cohesiveness with their classmates. These students often experience a kind of “buyer’s’ remorse” after purchasing an online course, and they are beginning to “comparison shop” at a variety of different schools when making a selection.
These trends reveal that students want more than simply a storehouse of information, as is available through platforms like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). They want the consistent presence of their instructor and frequent discussions and communication among classmates. Students reap the most benefits from online coursework when it engages their emotions. When they feel that such engagement is lacking, they look for it somewhere else.
When surveyed, the majority of students indicated that the design standards outlined in the Quality Matters rubric were critical in determining their overall sense of success and satisfaction with a course. Clear learning objectives, frequent interactions with classmates and instructor, and smooth navigation were among the many indicators of a quality online education experience.
A Bright Spot in a Darkening Landscape
The last few years have seen a dramatic drop in college enrollment at most post-secondary institutions. The reasons cited are a dropping birth rate, rising tuition costs, and an improving economy which draws more students into the working world sooner.
But online course enrollment is a bright spot in this landscape, as these have been steadily increasing in direct proportion to the decrease in traditional college enrollment.
These trends say volumes about the changing educational experience and the things that our students require from their colleges and universities.
Online courses can be highly relevant, even life-transforming, exposing students to experiences they could never find in a traditional classroom environment. It is worth the effort to improve the quality of online courses in the same way that we have always worked to improve the face-to-face classroom experience.