A recent report from the Brookings Institution explores the pros and cons of online education.
Online classes have the potential to bring otherwise unavailable educational opportunities to a broad range of students, tailoring courses’ content and pacing to each individual learner’s needs. For example, the report’s authors point to the latest “intelligent” tutoring systems, which can assess students’ weaknesses, diagnose why they are making these errors, and adjust the coursework accordingly.
Despite these promises, however, many of today’s online courses may be causing more harm than good, especially for low-performing students. This report reconfirms yet again what numerous studies have previously shown—that online schools consistently underperform the brick-and-mortar variety.
The Brookings report analyzes an online college, but many of its lessons apply to K–12 education, as well. Authors use data from DeVry University, a for-profit college at which every class is offered online and in-person. The average student takes two-thirds of her courses online, and online and in-person versions of a given classes are mostly identical, as “both follow the same syllabus and use the same textbook; class sizes are approximately the same; [and] both use the same assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics.”
The authors find that taking...