Even profs who teach online courses remain evenly divided on their effectiveness [survey]

education data

When it comes to online education, seeing – or even doing – isn’t necessarily believing. According to a survey of faculty attitudes on technology from Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, skepticism of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online learning still largely prevails.

The survey, which included 2,251 professors, found that only one in five respondents agrees that online learning can achieve learning outcomes that are equal to in-person courses. And even though it showed that professors who have taught at least one online course were more likely to support the new format than peers who had yet to teach online, those who have taught online are still pretty evenly divided on the effectiveness of web-based classes.

When asked whether online courses generally can lead to learning outcomes equivalent to in-person classes, 33 percent of teachers with online experience agreed, while 30 percent were neutral and 37 percent disagreed.

The report comes amid growing interest – and debate – on the topic of online education and MOOCs. Startups Coursera and Udacity and the non-profit edX continue to gain traction among schools looking to extend their reach and keep up with technology.  But the past few months have witnessed several setbacks for the otherwise surging MOOC movement. In addition to online learning-related flare-ups among faculty at Amherst and San Jose State University, last month, San Jose State said it had “paused” a program with Udacity over disappointing student results.

Higher education isn’t exactly known for embracing change and many professors see MOOCs as a threat to their employment, so it’s not surprising to see ongoing resistance among the academy. And, even though the MOOC providers have grown rapidly – Coursera, for example, says it’s enrolled nearly 4.5 million students and attracted 85 academic partners since officially launching last year – it’s important to remember that courses are very much in their early days.

Still, the survey points out just how sharply professors’ perceptions of MOOCs contrast with the media’s portrayal: 76 percent of faculty members and 71 percent of technology administrators said the press coverage has overstated the value of MOOCs.

If you follow this topic closely, it’s worth picking through the survey, which is available for download on Inside Higher Ed’s site. But here are a few other points worth noting:

  • Professors are particularly doubtful about online courses’ ability to reach at-risk students (a population especially targeted by some MOOC programs): 78 percent of professors rated online courses lower on their ability to teach at-risk students.
  • Skepticism among faculty increases as the programs become more familiar: 50 percent of professors disagree or strongly disagree that online and in-person learning outcomes can be equal at their own schools, 60 percent disagree or strongly disagree about courses in their departments or disciplines, and 62 percent disagree about equivalency “in the classes that I teach.”
  • 30 percent of professors say they have taught an online class, which is up from 25 percent last year. Among those who haven’t taught online, 30 percent say the key reason is that they haven’t been asked.
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