Awash in data on online learning

I’ve been preparing for a presentation recently and examining data from a bunch of different studies that examines undergraduate students and online learning.  While the data comes from different sources, together they present an important picture of the way online education is viewed by students and faculty.  Take the Educause Center for Analysis and Research’s 2012 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology.  In their survey of over 100,000 students across 195 institutions of all sizes and Carnegie class, 74% of student respondents reported taking a course with some online components.  While that classification is rather broad and encompasses several online types (fully online, hybrid, blended, etc), 70% of students also reported learning more in blended learning environments which utilize both face-to-face and online interactions and instruction.  Looking at fully online classes, 31% of undergraduates report that they’ve taken at least one online class.  This rate has more than doubled since ECAR’s 2008 report where only 15% had reported taking an online class.  There is no doubting that online education is becoming a significant part of teaching and learning in higher education.

When I share this type of data with my colleagues, inevitably, many wonder about security and student honesty in online and blended learning environments.    But, the research should quell some of their worries. Digging deeper into the ECAR study, for instance, only 16% of students report that they skip classes when lectures are available online.  While the report doesn’t compare this data to students who skip traditional classes, the rate seems pretty low, especially in light of other statistics found in the report.  For instance, 54% of students responded that they were more engaged in courses in that utilize technology for teaching and learning.  In an age of flipping and blending, more online lectures are being balanced with active learning strategies that engage students and support their concept development.  This could explain why few students skip these classes and feel more engaged.

But, what about cheating?  In a study published in The Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, researchers out of Marshall University examined students’ perceptions of cheating in online and traditional courses. While 10% of respondents report that they are more likely to cheat in a face-to-face class, 42% of students report that they are more likely to cheat in an online one.  At first, these findings are really startling and damning.  But looking at the reported rate of cheating in these environments shows a different picture.  When asked if they actually had cheated in an online or face-to-face class, comparable percentages of students (33% vs. 32%, respectively) report that they have cheated in those environments.  While the rate of cheating itself is shocking, it does not appear to be more prevalent in online courses than in face-to-face ones.

While these different reports present a mixed bag of information on online students, the statistic that really resonated with me was that 75% of students in the ECAR study found that technology helps them achieve their academic outcomes.  Whether through the use of mobile devices, e-readers or online learning environments, technology can support student learning and engage them in meaningful ways.

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