Distance Learning

Online Courses in High School Could Help with College Prep

Could online courses help prepare students for the transition from high school to college? A recent study in the United Kingdom suggested that taking online classes especially benefits students' "self-regulatory behaviors," which are important for success in higher education. Time management and the coordination of "distributed" or study groups surfaced as being particularly important.

The research, conducted earlier this year, specifically explored the broader effects of online learning on people aged 16 to 19 who had and hadn't taken courses from Pamoja Education, a company that delivers international baccalaureate classes. The study was done by the Institute of Education at the University of London (IOE) and involved a literature review, an online survey and interviews with students, and interviews with online teachers. Most of the students were based in the United States, the United Kingdom and India.

Virtually all of the students said that learning how to find academic resources online before attending a college is valuable. Nearly eight out of 10 respondents recognized the importance for their college careers of being able to plan and coordinate group tasks using calendars, scheduling and discussion applications. Seven of 10 reported that building relationships with other learners using social networks was an important pre-college learning experience. A similar number found it important to go into college knowing how to use wikis and other online editing tools such as Google Docs for creating shared material.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said it is "definitely" important to practice setting goals for helping to manage study time for courses. And most students — 73 percent — said they know where they can study "most efficiently."

"The research suggests there is a shift from school learning to university study and that a good online learning experience helps students to prepare for that shift," said Pamoja Principal Ed Lawless. "It helps them to develop the ability to work with a whole range of online media, and to develop an awareness of managing their personal progress which university students recognize as an essential part of their study requirement."

An aspect of this particular online program, which draws students from around the world, is that respondents felt they had developed their abilities to work with learners from other cultures. As the researchers noted in the report, these students also believed that "studying in this way had shifted their focus away from collaborating only within their schools, changing established dynamics with their everyday peers and tutors in way that could be challenging, but which expanded their horizons."

As one student was quoted as saying, "Studying online is different from attending regular class. You have to be self motivated to study on your own and set your own deadline. Personally, I learned a lot from taking an online course because it [helped] me prepare myself in terms of scheduling and allocating time."

Another noted that said "I had to be independent and in charge of my own learning so this has helped me be able to work this way."

However, not all students were satisfied with their online learning experiences. One found it harder to "respect the teacher when they were just 'text on a screen.'" Another student found that the lack of "instant feedback" compared to the face-to-face classroom setting made learning "difficult."

The 96-page report on the study is available online at the Pamoja site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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