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Study Suggests Online Students Communicate Better with Peers and Instructors

By Henry Kronk
December 19, 2018
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Since online education became viable over 20 years ago, it has consistently offered certain advantages to its brick-and-mortar sibling. It has also appeared to struggle with consistent disadvantages. A recent study by TheBestSchools.org, however, reports surprising findings from online students. Many testified that eLearning allows for greater collaboration and communication among both peers and instructors. 

In general, online students have long enjoyed greater flexibility both in terms of time and space. Non-traditional students (a term that increasingly carries less descriptive power) can study remotely and pursue education regardless of the barriers that prevent them from learning in a physical school. Setbacks, meanwhile, include subpar instructional design, technological requirements, and most importantly for some, social isolation. The accepted narrative states that online students receive a less-than-ideal education because they don’t learn in a classroom where they can interact with their instructor and peers. 

A Familiar Story, With a Twist

TheBestSchools.org, which monitors institutions’ quality and performance in the style of the U.S. News and World Report, reviewed over 1,000 testimonials from online students to reach their conclusion. They did not provide further details of their survey methods. 

When asked what advantages online courses offered learners, most indicated that they added flexibility. Improved communication between peers and instructors, however, ranked in the #2 spot. The college ranking service did not provide specific data for how many students or what percentage of their sample reported these opinions. 

Online Students Share their Experiences

“One of the most positive experiences of my online program has been connecting with people in similar situations taking courses from all over the world,” said Hilary L., who is enrolled in a bachelor of science in Health Sciences at Northern Arizona University. “In my last class, I connected with an army wife who was stationed in Germany at the time. I think that this is a unique experience. Secondly, I enjoy the flexibility online classes offer. While they are not self-paced in theory, I am able to spend more or less time on a topic within the outlined time frame based on my needs.”

“In my online college experience I have been pleasantly surprised at the diverse student body and the variety of academic and practical real-world experience that they bring to the program,” said Roderick K., a Masters student in engineering at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “In my opinion, that adds tremendously to the academic experience as there exists a sharing of knowledge and expertise that enhances the overall value of the program. As many students can relate, grasping knowledge from merely reading a textbook, watching a video, or listening to a professor can be a challenging experience. As such, having the ability to share ideas and knowledge from a wide cross-section of students aids tremendously in the learning process. Moreover, being able to pursue your education on your schedule via online technology is priceless.”

The report leaves readers a few reasons to take its conclusions with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the report appears to offer evidence that distance learning improves the learning experience.

Featured Image: Tim Gouw, Unsplash.