Online Education Isn’t Always Glamorous

laptop-computerDespite its advantages there are still many people who are skeptical of online education.

It is hard to imagine that the same learning experience can occur from a 100% online (or virtual) course.

I would tend to agree with this sentiment as I am not a believer in “one method is better than another”. Personally I think a blended learning model is ideal because it leverages the benefits of both methods.

Still, online-only schools do exist and are attracting students from all over the world. The content is often delivered as a combination of pre-made elearning modules, recorded lectures, and live webinars.

Student participation is usually measured via forum participation or comments on course material.

This all sounds so great what could possibly be the down-side to an online education?

It is simple really: only a small percentage of people actually finish online courses.

For evidence of this just have a look at MOOC completion rates. They are terrible.

Granted MOOCs do have some characteristics that make them unique (for example, the fact that they are “free”) and I am sure this plays a significant role in the completion figures.

Another contributing factor to these low completion rates could be the fact that many people getting online degrees are working full-time jobs at the same time.

While the virtual component of these courses makes it possible for them to access the content on their own time, there are still deadlines to meet. The lack of personal (human) touch in some of these programs does not do much to motivate the learner to meet these deadlines.

My intent of pointing out these factors is not to come down on online education. We clearly can see that it has immense benefits. I am merely mentioning these as opportunity areas.

If we want this method of education to have a greater impact then we should always be looking for ways to improve it. The first step to doing so is acknowledging that it is not perfect.


Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Twitter | LinkedIn

2 Responses

  1. I totally agree. Personally I never believed in exclusively online courses because education is not linear. It’s just impossible to cover all in a lesson or module pretending that would fit all the students needs. Looking for the others ways to offer blended learning using also webinars and even live meetings could be essential.

  2. It’s very interesting to see you make a statement about completion rates in all online courses based on completion rates of MOOCs. You’ve also ignored the date from a number of large online programs (e.g. FLVS, VHS, etc) that have reported completion rates higher than 85 percent.

    You also say, that you’re not a believer in one method being better than another, and then putting a stake in ground for blended. But that is another method — actually a range of methods, since there’s no universal definition of blended. Do you mean something that’s 25-75, 50-50, 30-60, or even 10-90. All those fit within the broad definition of blended, and you didn’t narrow that definition.

    And, it was interesting that you choose to focus, from a variety of different online programs on some of the significant issues, and they are significant, but by going from approach to approach you selectively painted a negative picture. I could do the same, but selectively go from program to program only pointing to the positives.

    I’d have to put you in that skeptical category (at least for this article) and wonder where this statement comes from:

    “It is hard to imagine that the same learning experience can occur from a 100 percent online (or virtual) course.” That’s your second sentence (and paragraph). Hard for you because you’ve never seen it? Same learning experience as from a poorly organized face-to-face course — those exist too, just like poor online courses exist. But we don’t condemn the world of face-to-faced courses because some don’t work. Neither should you do that for online courses. And you might want to look at more of the research on online courses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *