Impacting Distance Learning Success Rates

By Machuca, Wayne | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Impacting Distance Learning Success Rates

Machuca, Wayne, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Comparison of distance education (DE) and face-to-face (F2F) classes at a California community college found that a significant difference did exist between success and retention rates with the DE rates far lower than equivalent F2F classes. Further investigation discovered that the DE success rates for the school were in many cases significantly lower than the statewide DE averages. Changes in the delivery and accountability of the classes were instated for the fall 2003 semester resulting in a significant improvement in success rates.


The College of the Sequoias (COS) developed an experimental distance education program to support the Language Arts department in 1996. Though absent of funding, training, mission or support, the DE program expanded to include the divisions of Math, Business, Child Development, Library, and the Government and Nutrition programs. It uses Blackboard[R] as its DE delivery software.

COS is a medium sized community (junior) college located in Tulare county in the southern end of California's San Joaquin valley. It has one of the geographically largest districts in the state and includes all of King's County as well. While centrally located, COS' demographics are nearly identical to all of the surrounding colleges which include the community colleges at Porterville, Bakersfield, Fresno City, Reedley, and West Hills. Statistical data from the Chancellor's office indicated the near identical demographics for each school for the spring 2003 semester for ethnicity, age group, and gender. [1]

Though typical in demographic to the colleges in its vicinity, COS far exceeds its neighbors in student success. In this research, success is defined as the student's completion of a course with an A, B, or C grade. In the spring 2003 semester, COS reported 22,629 successful student completions out of 32,291 attempts (the average student enrolls in 3 classes) for a success rate of 70.08% [2]. Though the success rates at COS were higher than its demographically identical neighbors, the success rates for COS' DE courses were significantly lower with 233 successes out of 500 attempts for a success rate of only 46.6%--a difference of 24.2 points. This significant difference between the success rates of the DE classes and the success rate of the school overall, along with national research indicating that DE success and F2F success should be the same (Beattie, Spooner, F., Jordan, Algozzine, & Spooner, M, 2002; see also Butler, 2004 and Scott, 2002), caused the administration at COS to consider deep cutbacks in the DE program and possible elimination. This consideration was the inspiration for this research. The two questions that this project sought to answer were 1) the true distinction of the differences in the success rates between the DE and the F2F classes, and 2) to identify ways of decreasing that difference without reducing the rigor of the DE classes.

Quantification of Success Rates

While distance education has been available for quite some time (Schrum, 2002), and has been well researched (Nather, 2003; Beattie, 2002; Scott, 2002), there has been a significant increase of late in the number of DE offerings and in the number of institutions now providing DE courses, programs, and entire degrees (Donahue, 2002). As such, over 3 million students (Waits, 2003) are currently involved in some form of distance education. The California Community Colleges have witnessed a 380% growth in the number of DE noncredit courses and a 180% increase in the number of DE students (152,690 in 2001-02) (Nather, 2003). Additionally, the landmark on-going research by Thomas Russell (n.d.) demonstrates a wide body of work indicating the equality of DE and F2F education. Yet, Nather (2003) did find that in the California community colleges, the average success rate for DE classes is 54% where the average success rates for F2F classes is 64%.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Impacting Distance Learning Success Rates


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?