Student Demand for Online Courses May Not be as Strong as Colleges Think

This article is cross-posted from, where I currently serve as editor-in-chief.

CCRC_ColumbiaA new study from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a corresponding article from Inside Higher Ed digs into the student perspective of online courses at community colleges.  While the scope of this study was small and relied on in-person interview methods, it raised questions as to whether the enthusiasm of MOOCs in the community college setting may be misplaced.

From the study:

  • The study interviewed 46 of students who had taken at least one online course at two community colleges.
  • Students reported that they only took courses online if they felt they could learn the material on their own: If they expected a course to be difficult, or “really wanted to learn something,” they preferred face-to-face courses.
  • Students indicated a strong preference for a traditional classroom when taking courses they considered interesting or important, particularly those in their major.
  • The study suggests that without substantial improvements in online teacher-student interaction, it is likely that students will continue to prefer face-to-face courses in subjects they perceive as more challenging or incompatible with the online format.

The article from Inside Higher Education, highlights these additional insights from CCRC researcher Susan Jaggars:

  • While a good MOOC might make students feel like they know a professor, “it won’t make you think they know you,” and that loss of personal interaction and support can be problematic, particularly for students who need extra help.
  • Teachers always have other little things to talk about in the class, and stories and examples, which is something you don’t get quite as much with online instruction.

The same article offers some caveats within its reporting as well as in the comments:

  • Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, cited the limited sample size as a warning for drawing larger-scale conclusions.  However, Poulin also noted that given their tight budgets, community colleges need to be strategic about where to add online options, and that “being discerning makes sense.”
  • Commenter John Ebersole notes:  “While it is gratifying to see Teachers College involved in the study of online education, this particular study, and the larger effort that it is taken from, are seriously flawed in that they do not appear to have controlled for either student AGE or TYPE of online course…while interesting, there are too many unconsidered variables here to be much more than a provocative observation.”

Read the complete study.

Read the article at Inside Higher Ed.

About CCRC

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) is the leading independent authority on the nation’s nearly 1,200 two-year colleges. Founded in 1996, CCRC conducts research on the major issues affecting community colleges in the United States in order to identify practices and policies that expand access to higher education and promote success for all students.