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Weighing the True Value of an Online Education: How Recent Studies Have Debunked Popular Opinions

Guest post written by Jesse Langley.

Photo by Flickr user courosa

The initial hesitance to embrace online education as a valid alternative to traditional institutions has recently made a noteworthy shift, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The study revealed that while just 29 percent of American adults believe that an online course is just as valuable as a traditional classroom course, a substantially higher 51 percent of college presidents believe that both methods have equal value. While these results may not be classified as a substantial majority, they can certainly be deemed as progress at the very least.

Although this change could partially be attributed to the growing popularity of the programs, it may also be based on the consistently improving efficacy of the programs as well. In terms of popularity, the Pew study revealed that more than 75 percent of the nation's top colleges and universities now offer alternative online classes, essentially granting them a nod of approval. New studies that analyze the effectiveness of online courses also add merit to the value of the programs, which may help influence the generally negative opinions of the public.

Based on the same study, one in four college graduates reported to have taken a course online. Of the adults who had taken an online course, 39 percent reported a positive experience, while only 27 percent of students who hadn't taken an online course reported a positive review of the concept. Although the shift in opinion appears to be gradual, it is no doubt trending towards online options.

According to another study conducted by the SRI International of the Department of Education, there is no evidence-based reason to believe that an online course would be any less effective than a traditional college course. In fact, the study reveals that the potential for better student performance is actually in the online course's favor. The report examined and compared student performance in both online and traditional classroom environments between 1996 and 2008. Students from a variety of age groups and settings were examined, including K-12 programs, colleges, adult continuing education programs, medical training and military education.

After extensive research and observation, the study concluded that, on average, students in online courses actually performed better than those who received face-to-face instruction. Although this doesn't mean that there isn't still some value to traditional classroom learning environments, it lends credibility to the often misunderstood value and advantage of online programs as a benefit to student learning. Moreover, these studies unveil positive opportunities for busy adults who seek a quality degree program that accommodates their hectic schedules. With more and more of these studies surfacing, we can expect that the stigma once associated with online courses will shift to a more positive perception.

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago with his family where he is a writer, former educator, and social media enthusiast. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University.


Pew Research Center Publications. (2011, August 28). The Digital Revolution and Higher Education. Retrieved December 11, 2011, from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2092/online- courses-students-colleges-universities-technology-laptops-tablets.

New York Times Blog. (2009, August 19). Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom. Retrieved December 11, 2011, from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/ study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/.

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