There are several interesting aspects to online and digital education. This is not necessarily the education of online and digital subjects, but the use of both in educating students in other subjects.
In an article by Ian Dunn from the Telegraph on November 25 - ‘Digital is the missing link in higher education’, he puts forward that:
‘Unsurprisingly, non-completion rates from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are around 90 per cent; but even in the US, where online degrees are more common, dropout rates are traditionally around 20-30 per cent.’
Ian is a Deputy Vice Chancellor at Coventry University in the UK and this paragraph sums up the views of many who do not understand the benefits that this kind of programme brings.
I am not sure where the drop-out rate figures come from, but they give no indication of how this relate to real courses for real students. If it is a course that is free and easy to sign up, then the chances are that 90% would drop out, simply because there is no obligation to do it beyond an interest shown at one time.
The basis of the entire article is summed up best by this paragraph:
‘A major problem with online courses has been dropouts, rooted in a sense among students that an online course is less of, or requires less of, a serious commitment and somehow leads to a lesser qualification.’
Therefore, it is not the lessons themselves that need to be overhauled or the benefits communicated better, it is that people are inherently lazy and don’t appreciate these lessons.
However, this is simply not the case.
The study ’Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from a six-campus randomized trial’ took 600 students and divided them into traditional teaching courses and online courses. It then tested them using the same exam and found that 80% of the online students and 76% of the traditional students passed the course.
So online courses do not appear to have less engagement or lack commitment from students.
Instead, perhaps it needs to be a look at the ways in which online courses are promoted. The article discusses gamification and the use of mentors to help students at Coventry University to accept online courses.
These will not work.
Delivering messages saying that students should be working harder on these courses is not going to be as effective as discussing what benefits these courses can bring. Learning at your pace or the ability to actually research what is being discussed, whilst learning about the lecture, for instance.
Gamification will also fail because if you are looking at incentivising an online course, the UK cost of £9,000 per year is incentive enough to not miss it.
The fact that this is all online means that there is a huge number of opportunities for educational institutions to make the most of the platforms, work out what people like and don’t like and then focus on improving these systems.
Throughout the entire article there is a real sense that the message may not be the issue, but the actual understanding of why online courses and digital education platforms are important. Perhaps this is the problem in universities and schools at the moment, the people who are meant to be selling these ideas to students simply do not understand the benefits themselves.