Taking an Online Course Does Not Impact Regular Classroom Performance

I’ve embarked on a smallish study where I’ve been looking at the impact of students participating in online courses. I’ll publish more complete details, including references to some of the relevant literature later, but wanted to post a bit of a teaser first.

Upstairs or down? ©2010 Brian Farrell

I decided to contrast the GPAs of students who are enrolled in 100% face-to-face (f2f) environments with students who are taking one online course, and the rest of their courses in a f2f setting versus the GPAs of the same students in the previous year. While I haven’t done a complete statistical analysis yet, the preliminary data is showing that there really isn’t a significant difference between theses two groups. In general, the whole group of students experiences a small drop in their GPA from tenth to eleventh grade, but the drop is pretty consistent. It was about a 4.5% drop for the 100% f2f group and a 3.5% drop for the mixed online and f2f group. I’d almost stretch this to say that taking an online course actually helps student performance in their f2f classes, but I’m not sure the data supports this big of a leap in reasoning.

I’m personally not surprised by these results, as I’ve been an online learner for years, but hope that they can add to the ammo when talking to parents about the potential ‘distraction’ and ‘juggling act’ of a student taking an online course. Online classes are different, but not different in a bad way.

2 thoughts on “Taking an Online Course Does Not Impact Regular Classroom Performance

  1. I am not sure I agree with you, albeit you having the ‘numbers’ to back up what you are saying. Let me preface this by saying I am not sure of how extensive your research, nor how varied your demographic. My uncertainty is based on having worked with very diverse student groups: Those with parents, access to computers and internet, the ability to read, three or more decent meals in their belly each day and a parental expectation and encouragement for academic success. This compares with those with parents who are MIA, in prison or for whom ‘mom’ is actually ‘grandma’, no follow-up support at home, relying on a steady diet of school breakfast and school lunch and whatever can be purchased from the a takeout place or convenience store and little or no expectation that they will amount to much. I know these are polar opposites, but as a resident of a state that hopes to ‘paint all students with the same online learning brush’, I have to disagree. I think removing the human component from a students course will do exactly what your research suggests for those students with drive, support and intrinsic motivation as well as the hardware and software to support their learning. For others, I think it could potentially widen the already ridiculously wide gap that exists in education. The nine year olds I teach today, are more tech savvy than ever, I would agree. However, does Joe Average at the local public school who’s parents are not paying $15,000 a year out of their own for a fourth grade education, stand a chance to be as equally successful at independent online learning in high school? I don’t have the research to back this up, but in a time when current legislation is the suggestion that budgets for education be cut, class sizes increased, the loss of 700+ teacher jobs be approved AND that every ninth grader gets a computer and high school credits have to include online learning, I am fearful for the impact this could have on the already disadvantaged. I also wonder the motivation for such measures beyond the improved GPAs as you suggest when the computer company that would get the schools contract and the online learning providers are both financial supporters of the Education Superintendent. Coincidence that online learning is the next best thing, or insurance for the next by-election?


  2. Thanks for the feedback Sonya.

    I hope to have a link to my final paper posted here soon, but it essentially reiterates what I have already said. You’re quite right in that my data set is limited to one school, but I’m not so sure that the results would look much different for other students. Taking a course online requires many of the same skills as taking one face to face, and so a student’s level of success should not differ greatly between the two spheres. I have taught many students in situations similar to what you’re describing, and struggled with getting them to attend classes regularly and completing assignments. I can’t assume that they’d be any more successful in an online learning environment, but I similarly wouldn’t assume that they’d be any worse off.

    All of these things of course assume that the online environment replicates the classroom in the sense that it is lead by a qualified teacher, and is given the necessary support in a similar way that a f2f class would be.

    Im not suggesting that online courses should replace classroom environments. But I do think they do bring tremendous benefit for schools and students in their flexibility and ability to connect students with the world.


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