Online Education

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Online Learning: Does It Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students? Shanna Smith Jaggars January 2011 CCRC Working Paper No. 26

A WORKING PAPER IN THE CCRC ASSESSMENT OF EVIDENCE SERIES
Across the first year of a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with supplemental funding from Lumina Foundation for Education, CCRC has gathered and synthesized a large body of research evidence regarding strategies that may improve the success of students who attend community college. Working papers in the Assessment of Evidence Series use the research literature to draw conclusions and provide evidence-based recommendations in eight major topic areas: developmental assessment, developmental acceleration, developmental mathematics pedagogy, contextualization of basic skills instruction, online learning, non-academic support, institutional and program structure, and organizational improvement. All the papers in the series are made available on CCRC’s website (http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu) as they are released.

Address correspondence to: Shanna Smith Jaggars Senior Research Associate, Community College Research Center Teachers College, Columbia University 525 West 120th Street, Box 174 New York, NY 10027 212-678-3091 Email: jaggars@tc.columbia.edu This research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The author gratefully acknowledges helpful comments provided by Patricia Beatty-Guenter, Karen Stout, and Susan Wood on an early outline and initial draft. Di Xu and David Blazar provided expert research assistance.

Abstract Advocates of online learning are optimistic about its potential to promote greater access to college by reducing the cost and time of commuting and, in the case of asynchronous approaches, by allowing students to study on a schedule that is optimal for them. This goal of improved access has been one of the top motivators for postsecondary institutions to expand their distance education offerings, which has in turn helped drive a strong increase in online course enrollments over the last decade. A series of technologybased classroom initiatives has also attracted strong attention from postsecondary educators. The enthusiasm surrounding these and other innovative, technology-based programs has led educators to ask whether the continuing expansion of online learning could be leveraged to increase the academic access, progression, and success of lowincome and underprepared college students. This paper examines the literature for evidence regarding the impact of online learning on these populations. First, a research review strongly suggests that online coursework—at least as it is currently and typically implemented—may hinder progression for low-income and underprepared students. Second, the paper explores why students might struggle in these courses, discusses current access barriers to online education, and offers suggestions on how public policy and institutional practice could be changed to allow online learning to better meet its potential for these students.

Table of Contents 1. Introduction....................................................................................................................1  2. Review of the Research..................................................................................................3  2.1 Courses Studied.........................................................................................................4  2.2 Course Completion ...................................................................................................7  2.3 Student Learning Outcomes......................................................................................9  2.4 Student Progression.................................................................................................16  2.5 Summary of the Research .......................................................................................17  3. Why Are Online Course Completion Rates Lower?...
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