University students today face many challenges. At Kansas State University, 200 students were surveyed on their habits and behaviors. You can watch a video summary of the survey HERE. The survey found that the average student reads only 49% of the readings assigned to them, and spends hundreds of dollars on textbooks that are never opened. It also found that the average college graduate from from KSU will graduate $20,000 in debt. These results are not unique to Kansas State University, and they highlight some of the issues found in today’s educational system.
According an article by Don Tapscott called “Discovery Learning Is the New Higher Learning“, universities today are in danger of losing their monopoly- the biggest threat being online courses, especially MOOCs. Students are beginning to question if going to college is worth it, especially with the cost of tuition rising rapidly. Rising tuition isn’t the only problem though; universities aren’t adapting to the way that students today learn best. Universities follow a ‘broadcast model’ of teaching, where professors stand in front of a lecture hall full of students, and students passively listen and try to remember everything so they can regurgitate it on an exam later. This may have worked for the baby-boomer generation who grew up passively watching TV, but today’s students need more. They grew up surrounded by interactive online experiences, and as a result think differently than their parents and grandparents. They need an interactive education, not a one-size-fits-all lecture.
In his article “Lectures Still Dominate Science and Math Teaching, Sometimes Hampering Student Success“, Dan Berrett argues that teaching STEM classes in a lecture format is what is causing the high drop out rate of STEM majors. Increasing the number of graduates from STEM majors is a national priority, and for this to happen, class formats need to change to be more interactive.
Professors and teachers are hesitant to change their lecture formats and adapt to new technology because of fear, according to Josie Gurney-Read in “Fear of technology may hold back change in education” Technology is changing education for the first time in years, and many educators are resistant.
Despite professors using the same teaching style for hundreds of years, there is one thing that has changed, and that is the cost of getting an education. According to Katie Rose Quandt in her article “College Has Gotten 12 Times More Expensive in One Generation“, the average cost of tuition is $43,000 a year at four-year private schools, and $21,700 at in-state public schools. Prices have increased by 1,122% since 1978. The cost of textbooks is also increasing at an unsustainable rate, while the information found in them hasn’t changed much. Prices have increased 812% according to Joanne Jacobs in her article “A Bubble Waiting To Burst: College Textbooks Are Ungodly Expensive & Increasingly Irrelevant.”
With these issues in education continuing, the US Department of Education did a meta-analysis and review of online learning. You can read the full thing HERE. The meta-analysis lists 12 key findings.
Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.
The advantages observed for online learning conditions therefore may be the product of learners spending more time on task during online instruction than face-to-face instruction.
- Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed rather than studies where online learners worked independently.
- Many of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.
- The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different learner types.
The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content.
- Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online and face-to-face conditions varied in terms of curriculum materials and aspects of instructional approach in addition to the medium of instruction.
- Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student outcomes.
- Frequent online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in an online class.
- Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and by prompting learner reflection.
- Providing instruction en mass to large groups of students appears less successful than providing instruction that requires each individual learner to operate on the material independently.
- Extensive use of video does not appear to enhance the amount that students learn in online classes.
As you can see from the results of this meta-analysis, online education is more effective than many people might have originally thought. I know I was surprised when I first read these findings. By now, you’re probably wondering why online education works. Well, Daphne Koller answers this question in her TED Talk “What we’re learning from online education“. Koller founded the website Coursera, which offers free online classes to anyone in the world, taught by some of the greatest professors from prestigious universities. Coursera works because it is personalized to every individual student- it does not rely on the “one size fits all” model used by many professors. Since it’s online, every lesson can be split into smaller segments, each of them getting a specific point across. If a student wants, they can access review material before each segment, or even optional enrichment material after each segment to gain a deeper understanding in the lessons that interest them.
Coursera also forces every student to actively participate. After each lesson students are asked retrieval questions. In traditional lectures, a professor may ask a question to the class but not every student has to actively think about it. Online, the student has no choice but to participate. Additionally, the student will get instant feedback from the computer.
Another advantage is the fact that thousands of people can take the course at the same time. If a student asks a question of another student, there is a very fast response time, because there is always someone else, somewhere else in the world working on the same problem.
As you can see, online education is very effective for many reasons. It forces its students to think for themselves, instead of purely memorizing material, cultivating creativity and critical thinking. It may be just what our education system needs to engage today’s students, providing the interactive education they need, and in addition keeping costs down.