Monday, November 2, 2009

Do Your Students Perform Better in Online Courses?

Some instructors are reluctant to teach online courses because they’re concerned that students won’t receive the same high-quality learning experience online as they would receive in a classroom with face-to-face interaction with the teacher and other students. Especially for technology studies, offering the courses online begs the question: Are students really gaining the necessary practical experience for understanding the technology? At Henderson College in Henderson, Kentucky, instructor Kimberly Conley was asked for years to teach an online A+ Essentials class, but she refused. She said, “I could teach a theory class all day online, . . . but it’s impossible to teach a practical, hands-on application class online.”

Through technology for Web-based video, instant messaging, and collaborative work online, however, opportunities for interaction in online courses are growing, and studies have been conducted with surprising results. A recent report written for the Department of Education in the United States examined 99 quantitative studies comparing students’ performance in online versus traditional classrooms, mostly in college or adult-learning courses. The studies found that, on average, students in online courses ranked higher in tested performance than students taking the same course in a traditional classroom setting.

New York Times technology reporter Steve Lohr suggested that in the past, “Online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence course.” He continued, “The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are tailored more to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more ‘learning by doing,’ which many students find more engaging and useful.”

LabSim certification training courses are a fine example of the “learning by doing” that can be available for online technology courses, and many colleges have incorporated LabSim into their distance IT curriculum because LabSim allows students to actually perform in a simulation the tasks they are taught. At Henderson College, Conley discovered LabSim in 2006, and she was finally willing to teach the A+ Essentials course online. Now she can give her students the practical, real-world environment they need—“all the benefits of a physical lab without the constant upkeep and expense of a physical lab,” she says.

What experiences do you have teaching a course online, and how have technology tools improved your students’ online education? From your perspective, do students perform better in your online class or in your traditional classroom? Leave a comment, or email us your story at experience@testout.com.

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