The vast majority of online courses mirror face-to-face classrooms with professors rather using technology to better differentiate instruction across students. As one new study that we completed with our colleagues Lindsay Fox and Eric Taylor shows, online courses can improve access, yet they also are challenging, especially for the least well-prepared students. These students consistently perform worse in an online setting than they do in face-to-face classrooms; taking online courses increases their likelihood of dropping out and otherwise impedes progress through college.
The negative effects of online course taking are concentrated in the lowest performing students. . .These analyses provide evidence that students in online courses perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses and that experience in these online courses impact performance in future classes and their likelihood of dropping out of college as well. The negative effects of online course-taking are far stronger for students with lower prior GPA. The results are in line with prior studies of online education in other settings such as community colleges and highly competitive four-year institutions that also show that online courses yield worse average outcomes than in-person courses.
Source: Bettinger, E., & Loeb, S. Promises and Pitfalls of Online Education, Brookings
Some approaches for differentiating in an online course (adapted from King Online Univ):
- Provide one-on-one assistance to students during lessons
- Create digital content that features graphic organizers, visual aids that students can access
- Create multiple activity types that enhance student choice of assignment that best aligns with them
- Allow independent study assignments that enable student to move at faster pace
- Create tiered assignments including shorter texts, more group discussion, use of drawing/visual representation/video/audio in lieu of writing
- Develop a rich variety of questions that move conversation from basic queries to advanced
- Have students pick the rubric they would like to use to assess a project, focusing on a different media for example
- Formative online assessment
- Problem-based learning
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