Online Learning is Upside Down

Online Learning Models are Upside Down

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Online learning models are upside down.  The proponents of online education state that “credit recovery” is one of the reasons to learn online.  This form of learning occurs when a student fails a high school course and is required to either make up the entire course or pass the units/sections/chapters that were failed.  So the student recovers the credit.

The reasons that student may have “failed” the course are wide, but they likely fall into a few categories, such as:

  1. The student has not learned organization skills.  He may be brilliant, but cannot organize himself.
  2. The student cannot self-regulate.  This means that the student cannot force himself to put down the TV remote, the smart-phone, or video game to study.

Some can argue that the student may not have mastered the previous learning to be successful.  Perhaps the student has a low reading proficiency or he cannot compute well.   Perhaps, the student lacks internal motivation.

I propose here that the idea of putting struggling students in online classes is an enormous mistake.

Margaret Roblyer has a wide research base in this topic for high school students.  She has identified several characteristics of a successful online learner.

  • Academic Achievement — Good students are good students regardless of the learning environment.  Online learning does not suddenly make a poor student a high achiever.
  • Organization — Students learning online must be organized.
  • Technology — Technology must be present where they are learning.
  • Self-regulation — Students must be able to put themselves at the place they want to learn and to drop all distractions.

Dr. Roblyer has developed a survey that predicts the probability of passing (POP) an online course.  The survey is scored on the elements outlined above and heavily weighs on the academic success component.  If a student scores highly on the organization, technology and self-regulation questions, but has a low gpa, the POP score predicts a marginal success possibility.

To the point here:  So we put students who may not have the requisite skills, such as reading, in a course that has large amounts of material that must be read, they are disorganized, and they cannot self regulate.  This is a recipe for more poor results.  These students need help with organization, help with skills, and a disciplined environment.

In our online classes, we ask students to provide advice to the next group of students taking our courses.  Our latest published report is available here.  Our students usually advise future students to be organized and not to procrastinate.  In the report cited here, about 90% of the students responded this way.  One student’s response represented the group’s comments:

I would tell future students who are taking this course that they should plan ahead and get as much of the work done as they can early on before the due date. The course is much less stressful if you plan ahead and get things done whenever you have time to get it done. Also, try not to forget about your online class; always write about the due dates in your assignment notebooks and have many reminders. Don’t forget that there are some assignments that take longer than others, so allow time to finish them. It is also much easier to take the test when you are not rushing to finish it at 10 or 11 at night the night the unit is due.

The students are reporting back and supporting Dr. Roblyer’s research.  The success rate of the program, meaning students that score “A,” “B,” or “C” on their final grades, is 90%.  The students get it; they learn quickly what they need to do to be successful online.  The adults would prefer to work with high achievers and push the low achievers someplace else.

Here’s the model of learning I suggest:

  1. High achieving students should be put into online courses.  They can work at their own rates.  In speaking with my teaching colleagues, these students learn in spite of what happens in the classroom.  They are highly organized and they self-regulate.  Further, my teaching colleagues will claim that I am attempting to “skim off” the good students.  It is important to note that all students need quality teachers, whether online or in traditional classrooms.  The interaction is different online.  Teachers take more of a personal tutor or group mentor role.  They are no longer standing and delivering in front of students daily.  They interact with students through video conferencing technologies.  Our teachers report that they know their online students better than they know their face-to-face students.  Online the teachers “require” each student to participate in discussions and other activities where they might be silent in a regular classroom. Online teachers know every student well, not just the ones who want to talk in a traditional classroom.  Quality online teachers are important; teaching online occurs differently.
  2. Average students can be successful in hybrid (blended) learning environments, where they get the direct instruction they need, yet they can work on their own when possible.
  3. Low achievers need focused help from teachers in small groups.

There it is.  I welcome your feedback and your comments.