A paper released recently by the Community College Research Center reminds the champions of MOOCs and other online initiatives of one very important detail: Not all students prefer an online education; many higher education students still want in-person discussions and on-the-spot feedback.
But that’s not to say it will stay that way.
The CCRC paper is based on a small survey of community college students, about half of whom were 30 or older. Age, or the generational divide, is important to consider. For example, my brother and I are galaxies apart in terms of technology, even though he’s only six years younger. He has never known a world without computers, while I still remember the awe of searching on the Internet for the first time. He reads news from a screen; I flip through the Sunday paper. In college, he learned on computers in campus labs; I bought textbooks and highlighted relevant passages. I can’t reach my brother by calling him, but if I send a text message, my phone will buzz with an immediate reply.
I side with the students in the CCRC survey who say they want to go to brick-and-mortar classrooms, listen to professors’ lectures, and ask questions in real-time. But I see my brother and the generation behind me, raised to do everything through technology, and I acknowledge that student preferences will naturally change with time. But how much?
In the survey, students said they were more likely to take “easy” courses online – meaning ones they could teach themselves – but preferred a face-to-face environment for more complicated courses, such as science and foreign language. This speaks to a growing need to move general education curricula online, much like the University System of Georgia does with eCore. Students there can take the first two years of their four-year degree online, before moving into classes on campus required for their major. If more universities moved in this direction, it could streamline articulation agreements and transfer processes for students, ensuring that they wouldn’t lose credit if they decided to switch institutions—as many college students do.
This mixed approach, of online and face-to-face coursework, is more likely to become the future of higher education (rather than, say, MOOCs). But until higher education institutions fill the connection void that so many 30-and-older online students feel—and until schools give more support to help them succeed independently—many of these students will continue to be intrigued enough to enroll in an online course, but not impressed enough to return.
Photo Credit: Finding Dulcinea