Online Education and Academic Rigor: A Research Note

By Snell, Joel; Mekies, Saul | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Online Education and Academic Rigor: A Research Note


Snell, Joel, Mekies, Saul, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Online and offline courses are compared in terms of rigor. It would appear from this study that online or distance learning is harder than offline or traditional classroom learning. Caveats are explored.

In a recent article by Ridley and Husband(1998) the authors tested the hypothesis of grade inflation and related issues when comparing online and offline courses. For the neophyte, online education means distance learning of numerous modalities and offline is defined as traditional face-to-face classes. The results of their study suggested that differences were noted in terms of academic rigor. Further, it appeared that online courses were more rigorous.

The authors of this article compared online/offline of the same course. For two academic years, the same course had the same instructor, textbook, time period (1994-1996) and related. The difference is that the offline had lectures and the online had videos. The total N was 473 students. The dependent variable was attaining a passing grade or attrition/failure. Thus, did the two different delivery systems have significant difference in terms of those who succeed or fail/withdraw?

A two by two table was constructed comparing online and offline students with "success "(earning a passing A-D grade) and "failure" (F or Withdrawl.) The chi-square value was 40.28. This is significant well beyond the .001 confidence level. In terms of the raw data, online students were roughly the same with more failures than successes. However, in the offline group, students were over represented in the success group. Or there were less withdrawals and failures among the traditional offline group.

The findings would suggest that a significant difference was noted between online and offline education, and that online appears to be more rigorous.

However, there may be other explanations. One is that online courses may involve students who register late and may find online courses are the only courses available, thus the student may be less motivated. …

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Online Education and Academic Rigor: A Research Note
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