The difficulties that schools and universities face as they go online are not minor, especially in relation to costs, safety and teacher confidence. Also, the dilemmas and debates about student performance and student retention in courses are important issues for course coordinators. Deciding whether online course delivery or classroom/lecture delivery is best is not a simple question.
Three US researchers implemented a very simple but very effective idea. They have examined the rates of student retention and student performance in online courses and face-to-face courses that had been delivered by the same course leader over a period of five years. They also examined university data to determine if there was a statistically significant difference in course retention across a range of disciplines. Their captivating report Comparison of course completion and student performance through online and traditional courses and thorough literature review does provide some clear answers.
The researchers extracted archival data about student retention and student performance, as judged by final results, from similarly structured courses, as well as data on student retention from a number of different courses. The idea of extracting data from university records in order to compare the delivery of courses online and traditional face- to-face lecture/classroom delivery, where no technology was used, did yield quite candid results after the application of tests for statistical significance.
The researchers found that students enrolled in online courses had a statistically significant higher percentage of students who achieved ‘A’s compared to students enrolled in traditional courses. They also found that students enrolled in online courses ‘had the lowest completion rates at 93.3% compared to students enrolled in traditional courses at 95.6%’ (p. 111). Interestingly, some courses, such as reading, special education, physical education and health, appeared to be very suited to online delivery whereas finance, accounting and human resource management courses did not.
Previous research had indicated that ‘some disciplines may not be well-suited to online delivery’ (p. 113) and this research confirmed that result. Lower retention rates had been found in online mathematics courses and ‘the researchers suggested that mathematics might not be appropriate for online delivery’ (p. 113).
Comparison of course completion and student performance through online and traditional courses did not take into account other student variables such as gender, age, ethnicity and previous experience with online courses. However the findings are both intriguing and confronting in that online delivery would appear to be superior to traditional course delivery for student performance but not for student retention. Other researchers have indicated that course delivery is not a major factor in student achievement whereas the teaching method is significant.
Comparison of course completion and student performance through online and traditional courses is a very specific piece of research comparing online and traditional delivery of courses and there are some some lessons for teachers, lecturers and course leaders. It is well worth reading and sharing.
Atchley, W., Wingenbach, G. , & Akers, C. (2013). Comparison of course completion and student performance through online and traditional courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 14, No 4. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/download/1461/2685.
This article was first published on the Australian Council for Educational Research's Digital Education Research Network 2 (DERN) and is reproduced here in whole, courtesy of DERN.
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