Who Takes Online Courses?

Jeffrey Simons

Who Takes Online CoursesBy Jeffrey Simons

The Seattle Times just published an article about a study showing more students drop out, and fewer get a passing grade, when they take a class online than when they take it in a classroom.

According to the Times, “many previous studies comparing online and in-class course success have been limited in scope, usually only comparing the results of a single course taught in-person at a four-year college to the same course taught online… Those studies often show that online is just as good as in-person.”

The study says that the students who are most likely to fail to finish a class, or get a lower grade, are males, black students and students with lower levels of academic preparation. It also claims that, “If this pattern holds true across other states and educational sectors, it would imply that the continued expansion of online learning could strengthen, rather than ameliorate, educational inequity.”

Of course, we know different. According to a study by the WCET and partially funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at-risk students actually do better if they ease into online education with a small number of courses.

But what caught my attention most in that article was the concept of educational inequity. As if there is some single level playing field for all students regardless of economic situation, family situation, work situation, age or personal history. If that were the case, why doesn’t every student in America get a full scholarship to Harvard?

And it got me thinking, who takes online college courses?

It is not the kid whose father is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company whose family has gone to the same Ivy League school for three generations.

It is not the kid who wants to go to college the same way everyone else does and is willing to pay for the privilege.

And it most certainly is not the kid who thinks college is about fun and football games and parties in the dorm.

So who does take online courses?

It’s the mom who has to work full-time while raising three kids.

It’s the administrative assistant who doesn’t want to be an administrative assistant forever.

It’s the worker who saw his job shipped overseas and has 8 months left on his unemployment and doesn’t have 2-4 years go back to school to learn a new career.

It’s the National Guard soldier stationed overseas at a base in Afghanistan who wants to get a good job when she gets back home.

And it’s the kid who has always dreamed of going to college but whose parents can’t afford to send them and who can’t get a scholarship and who still won’t take no for an answer.

Lots of people go to college because it’s what’s next after high school. Lots of people can afford to spend $100,000 to get a degree… or their parents can.

But the students who go to college online aren’t doing it because it’s what’s next. They’re doing it because they want to do better, need to do better. They’re doing it to improve their lives, take care of their families, finish an education that they had to abandon years ago because life got in the way, or who have to learn a new career when their old one has abandoned them.

Online courses make that possible in a way that traditional courses can’t. Online courses let them squeeze college into a busy life that doesn’t have time to attend regular classes, even at night school, even on weekends. Online courses let them finish as quickly as they can… or as slowly as they need to. Online courses let someone who isn’t sure how they’re going to make ends meet earn college credit for just $99 a month.

Online college students are motivated. They are powerful. They are self-reliant. They are responsible. Online students are working against the odds to reach their goals to begin with, and the concept of “educational inequity” is just another thing they’re not going to let stop them. If they’re not here to succeed, they will certainly fail.

Who takes online courses?

You do.


Guest blogger Jeffrey Simons has been in advertising since the mid-80’s, when faxes were “new technology” and portable computers were the size of suitcases. Now, as Storyteller-in-Chief for his own social media consultancy, JL Simons Marketing & Advertising Consulting, he gets to tell true stories to interested readers for deserving brands.

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