Success of Online Learning

Different studies have been made regarding the success rate of online distance learning. Some show a significant higher pass rate versus the classical classroom approach. Example of this is a study conducted at the Riverside Community College (Anon, 2008) showing a significant higher number of achievements for mathematical courses delivered through the internet (average 66%) versus traditional courses (average 50%).
An other study at a College of the Sequoias in California (COS) revealed just the opposite, with a 70% success rate for the face-to-face course versus only 46.6% success for students in distance education (Rapid Intellect Group Inc., 2004).

This immediately shows that neither formulas in themselves are a guarantee for success. Several factors have an impact on the final result. There exists a huge variety in the types of courses offered through distance learning. Some simply provide a text to read, others check students’ learnings through online multiple choice tests, and yet others develop a more personal relationship with and between participants. Although some approaches were statistically proven to be more successful than others, it is the responsibility of the student to find the course and the way of working best suited for his personal situation.

Characteristics of Virtual Education

One of the great advantages of asynchronous online learning, is the freedom and the flexibility this offers to the student. He can choose when and where to study, combining his academical ambitions with his work obligations and social agenda. This, on the other hand, seems to be one of the great pitfalls (Reid, n.d.). With no fixed time table, the student must find his own way to keep all those balls in the air and manage his time in the most efficient way. This requires self-knowledge, time management and discipline. Even though this often is a new way of studying, it is a situation most professionals have learned to deal with throughout their working experience. He will have developed his own method to respect deadlines and to keep an overview of the tasks at hand, and a similar methodology will have to be used to get the most out of his studies.

A second great advantage is the opportunity to learn from others, and their experience. Adult students have learned a great deal during their career, both from a knowledge point of view as with regards to behavioural development. They have acquainted the processes and procedures of their company and most likely helped to shape or fine-tune some of them. Distance learning now gives them the change to not only discover new theoretical aspects, but also how they are applied in other environments. This may lead to a critical assessment of their own way of working, and the sharing of best practices.

There are many different formats and formulas of online learning. None offer a guarantee for success. Aspirant students should first carefully assess their personal situation: what motivates them; what do they want to achieve; how much time do they have available; do they master the required technological skills, … Knowles (1980 cited in Galusha, n.d.) believes that” learner behaviour is influenced by a combination of the learner’s needs plus the learner’s situation and personal characteristics. Knowing these personal characteristics is an important aspect of planning distance learning course-ware and strategies.”


Anon. (2008) Delivery Method and Success in MAT63MAT64MAT52 [Online] Riverside Community College. Available from: (Accessed 30 May 2010)

Galusha J.M. (n.d.) Barriers to Learning in Distance Education [Online] The Infrastruction Network. University of Southern Mississippi. Available from: (Accessed 1 June 2010)

Rapid Intellect Group Inc. (2004) Impacting distance learning success rates [Online] Available from: (Accessed 30 May 2010)

Reid (n.d.) What Every Student Should Know About Online Learning [Online] Kennesaw Georgia: Kennesaw State University. Available from: (Accessed 30 May 2010)