NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating Online Learning

April 23, 1999

A number of highly-respected universities have rushed in recent years to offer online courses. Education theorists are asking, how beneficial are they and will learning via computers undermine traditional methods?

So far, the verdict is mixed.

Recent reports from the College Board and the Institute for Higher Education Policy noted downside risks to distance learning:

  • Poor and minority students who have less computer exposure than their wealthier counterparts may struggle in an online setting.
  • Experts estimate that perhaps three-quarters of online students would have enrolled in classroom-based programs.
  • Many students may get discouraged with the impersonal nature of online courses and drop out.
  • Online students are deprived of the intellectual interactions they could experience on campuses.

Defenders of computer courses contend that a number of them offer interaction through forums for comments and questions, exams by e-mail and real-time chat rooms. Moreover, distance programs serve students who are unable to attend classroom sessions for logistical and scheduling reasons.

Some university officials report that the graduation rate for online students is much higher than at most traditional colleges.

Online students tend to be slightly older, male and have a higher family income than campus-based learners.

Source: Aaron Steelman, "Can 'E-Classes' Go the Distance?" Investor's Business Daily, April 23, 1999.


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