How Does Educational Performance for Online Learners Compare to Students at Traditional Colleges?

A common question about distance learning programs is if educational performance for online learners equals that of students earning degrees in traditional college settings.

Traditional programs are those from brick-and-mortar schools where instruction takes place in an on-campus environment. In these programs, face-to-face learning occurs in real-time between professors and students according to fixed class schedules. By contrast, distance learning courses are instructed online with opportunities to engage with professors and other students via technology-based pathways.

So, how do these learning experiences compare with regard to educational performance outcomes?

Criteria for Educational Performance

Regardless of the content delivery, degree programs are expected to provide rigorous academic experiences for students to master the knowledge and skills necessary for successful job performance in 21st-century careers. These experiences include the following components:

  • Instruction comes from fully accredited higher learning institutions.
  • In-depth lectures on core content comply with industry and career standards.
  • Students engage in cooperative learning and discussion with each other.
  • Opportunities are available to practice and apply knowledge in real-world settings.
  • Assessments and field work prepare students for degree completion and taking certification exams in their field.

Comparison of Student Performance in Traditional and Online Programs

In 2010, university researchers compared educational performance for online learners to that of learners in traditional programs for the period between 1990-2009. Their findings indicated that online learning programs have increased in legitimacy over time and that most universities, students and employers tend not to differentiate between traditional or online degrees as long as they come from accredited schools. This is primarily due to increased accountability by online institutions to adhere to professional program standards and the vast improvements in the online delivery of content. Today, students can easily access high-quality instruction through web-based video presentations and tutorials. They can also receive instructor feedback, turn in assignments, or complete cohort projects via collaborative tools such as Google Docs, instant messaging or social media websites. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that academic performance for online college learners is equal to or greater than that expected from their traditional education counterparts.

Educational Performance and Employer Expectations

Educational performance also plays an important role in attaining competitive employment and making career advancements. Fortunately, 83 percent of employers seem to view online degrees as favorably as those obtained in traditional settings as long as they came from accredited institutions with a history of high educational standards. Additionally, successful online graduates typically possess good time management skills, are independent learners and can multitask to accomplish goals, which are characteristics that employers seek in job candidates.

Related Resource: The 30 Cheapest Online Colleges

For over one hundred years, different forms of distance learning programs have given aspiring students affordable, convenient ways to pursue educational degrees. Such programs have expanded from correspondence courses and televised classes into online learning formats from accredited, well-respected higher education institutions. These program developments have also narrowed the gap between online and traditional degrees with regard to academic performance and future career expectations. Online programs also allow first-time degree seekers or professionals requiring graduate degrees for job advancement to pursue higher education while continuing to work. Since educational performance for online learners compares favorably with performance by students in traditional on-campus settings, potential college students can confidently consider online degree options.