Why Are So Many Students Still Failing Online?

May 24, 2011
Commentary by Stephen Downes

OK, if we're going to have a conversation about dirty little secrets, let's have it. Rob Jenkins writes in the ever-reliable Chronicle of Higher Education that the dirty little secret of online learning is that so many people fail. "Isn't it time that we had an honest national conversation about online learning?" he asks. "With countless studies showing success rates in online courses of only 50 per cent-as opposed to 70-to-75 percent for comparable face-to-face classes- isn't it time we asked ourselves some serious questions?" Well, fair enough. But here's the flip side, as Will Richardson observes: "Of the 2 million graduates in the class of 2011, 85 percent will return home because they can't secure jobs that might give them more choices and more control over their lives." Sure, it's harder to study online. It's harder to succeed. And you usually have other stuff happening too, like your family or your job. But while the rarefied university atmosphere may make it easier to succeed academically, it may be hurting you elsewhere.
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