Writer: Joey Garrand
2 min read August 2021 — The shift to online learning by much of the education system was rapid and unexpected in 2020. With the delta variant meddling with back-to-school plans, that ability to pivot is once again proving valuable. While online learning has proven its benefits in the past year, the modality may best suit adults, particularly given the challenges for students.
Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, president of Thomas Edison State University, explained in an interview with Invest: the root sources of those challenges. “For online learning, students need to be self-driven. In a face-to-face class, you’re reminded about assignments and tests that are coming up. In an online class, you’re expected to read the syllabus, look at the dates and stay on track. … Online learning is not for everyone.”
According to The Brookings Institution, studies regarding online learning have shown that typical college students may be the demographic most at a disadvantage. “Virtually all of these studies found that online instruction resulted in lower student performance relative to in-person instruction; although in one case, students with hybrid instruction performed similarly to their in-person peers.”
Brookings summarizes that typical students, “generally get lower grades, are less likely to perform well in follow-on coursework, and are less likely to graduate than similar students taking in-person classes.”
With online learning also comes the issues of having proper resources to access online education and the absence of in-person experiences. “Surveys have shown that the remote environment has been challenging for students, and some had it easier than others due to a variety of differences, including Wi-Fi and broadband access, housing and food insecurity issues, financial and employment barriers as well as mental and behavioral concerns. Our students have been missing out on all of the essential social and life skills that are learned as an independent college student. Most of all they missed their social networks and campus programs/activities,” Donna Nickitas, dean and professor at Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, told Invest:.
However, the one area where online learning seems to be particularly advantageous is for working adults who are looking to further their education. Hancock says in accommodating the working population, “we turn every traditional construct on its head,” highlighting the great deal of flexibility that needs to be available for such individuals. “We start terms every month, we have terms of varying length and we accept collegiate-level learning wherever and however it was acquired. We keep our curriculum nimble and stay aligned with employer needs. That nimbleness of curriculum is key for us because our students are going directly to their career path, rather than an 18-year-old who has years before they enter their desired field.”
Because of maturity differences and a great understanding of what their future holds, the adult population is much more motivated than students out of high school. The adult population also has much less flexibility with their time. Hancock states that because of these dynamics, “A traditional student taking our online courses might not do as well, while one of our students taking a traditional class also may not do well.”
While the K-12 and young college students have shown less-than-par results in their experience with online learning, the adult population seems to appreciate and flourish in an online learning environment.