Online High School Issues

Sooooo things are not going so well in the land of online high schools. It might be connected to a general issue with large-scale education right now.

You see, MOOCs have a very high “dropout rate.” It takes 10-20 registrants to get a single student with a certificate. Even when you have a fairly well-focused demographic (e.g. teachers), the majority of would-be students leave before the end of the second week.

The general assumption is that most of the registrants are just there to check things out, maybe watch a few videos or try a few questions, but not really to do work. And make no mistake, learning is work, so most people are going to drop out of the course and not learn anything from it. There’s no serious reward for staying in besides your own education. If your education is not currently a priority, you don’t stick around.

Now read this:

Let me give a quote:

…when researchers from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder evaluated academic achievement at every one of the more than 300 online schools in the U.S., they found “serious and systemic” problems throughout the industry.

UC Boulder is a very well-respected institution when it comes to education research. They have one of the best groups for physics education research in the country. When they say you have serious, systemic problems with the way you teach your students, they ain’t kiddin’.

The question is now why. Is this an issue of motivation – are teachers in public schools able to motivate their students more effective, or parents able to motivate their children better when they visit a physical school? Is it one of materials quality – are these for-profit schools skimping on their handouts and videos, leading to things that are flashy but not educational? Is it one of personal interaction, where being able to see your teacher and talk to your fellow students in a high-bandwidth environment (i.e. in person) makes for a more compelling environment? Is it a question of priorities, or of cheating, or of some other option? What is causing this issue?

We are faced with two apparently different parts of education: college-level courses aimed at the general public, and high-school-level courses aimed at a specific set of students in a particular state. I think that figuring out what the problem is with one of them, even if we don’t solve that problem, might give us a lot of insight into what’s going on with the other. Certainly there will be room for debate, and it’s probably not just a single issue that’s creating either problem… but even getting some good ideas will let us start doing testing.

There are certainly enough people failing in both environments for us to start figuring out what’s making them fail. This is, sadly, not a small-numbers problem. Maybe if we can figure out what makes people drop out of these online courses, we can also understand what makes millions of students every year fail out of high school in more traditional classrooms.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on October 7, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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