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Online course students more likely to fail, says new research

Community college students are more likely to to fail online courses than traditionally-taught, face-to-face courses, a new study out of California has revealed.

This study, carried out by researchers at the University of California-Davis, found that California community college students were 11 percent less likely to finish and pass an online course than students who took the course in person.

This is not the first suggestion that such a relationship between digital learning and academic performance exists. The results underscore the findings of a similar study in Washington two years ago, which concluded that completion rates for online community college courses were 6 to 10 percentage points lower than courses taught face-to-face. This prompted educators at Washington’s community colleges to try to address these performance issues, in an attempt to bring online student completion rates up to the level of those that attend physical classes.

One such measure that colleges have introduced in light of these findings includes specialised training for faculty members throughout the system, to improve the quality of online courses, said Laura McDowell, spokeswoman for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).

SBCTC has also adopted a learning management system called Canvas – a digital communication platform that more effectively delivers online education – McDowell said. The program is said to allow faculty to present a number of course relevant materials, such as class notes, timetables, grade books, discussion boards and online quizzes. Students are also able to communicate directly with faculty through Canvas, which allows for both easier tuition and maintenance of the mentor and mentee relationship that is vital to student success.

A number of colleges have taken additional, specific steps. Seattle Central College’s Center for Extended Learning works to make sure students who sign up have access to a thorough introduction to course information and tutor expectations for their performance. Highline College has created a faculty learning community to brainstorm new ways to bring technology into the learning process. Shoreline Community College has also made changes, creating two new positions for support staff that exclusively cater to online students.

This fall and winter, several community colleges in the Washington system will begin offering an online, competency-based associate degree in business, with all credits transferable to a Washington public four-year college. McDowell revealed hopes that lessons learned through offering these courses would eventually translate into further benefits for the organisation of face-to-face classes.