Most studies about on campus vs. online students find that online students fare worse in performance assessments, but a recent study from a healthcare administration teacher found the opposite.
During Angelia Watkins’ research for her doctoral dissertation, she found that while many studies measured the grades of online vs. face-to-face students, none had looked at how these students performed in the industry.
Since BYU-Idaho requires internships, Watkins used data from employee internship evaluations to study whether taking two particular healthcare administration classes either online, on campus or a combination affected the scores students got from their internships providers.
She found that face-to-face students did not perform better on any of the internship success markers, even though they made up 48 percent of the sample. Hybrid students performed best on four of the markers (innovativeness, teamwork, dependability and punctuality), but the online students performed best in 14 of the 18 markers.
The difference in points was not large or statistically significant, but Watkins was still fascinated that the online students did better.
Studies Watkins cites in her paper found that online students tend to perform much worse than other students; she thinks the disparity in her study comes from a few different factors.
For one thing, BYU-I, especially the online program, has a much different demographic than other schools. 42 percent of her sample, online and on campus students combined, were between ages 26 to 30.
“You’ve got a lot of students who are already working in industry; you’ve got a mom who raised her kids, her last one’s gone to kindergarten, (so) she’s going back to school,” Watkins said. “That is different than how a young, single individual who’s barely in (his/her) junior year of college is going to perform in an internship, just based on maturity level.”
Alan Young, BYU-I’s managing director of online learning, also guesses it might have to do with age.
“Online students are on average quite a bit older than campus-based students,” he said. “Though age doesn’t predict quality of work, there may be a tendency for a student in their 30s to get a better review from an employer than someone in their early 20s.”
Because of BYU-I’s smaller campus, the school has implemented online programs for years now. In 2009, BYU-I created Pathway, a way for students all around the world to start their education and easily transfer to campus. Even though Pathway is now its own entity, it has served over 70,000 students in the last 10 years, 36 percent of which live outside the U.S. and Canada.
Watkins pointed out that in other universities, on campus and online learning are often separate. However, at BYU-I, teachers are required to teach both on campus and online, and their courses are supposed to mimic each other, with the same learning and assessments.
Young pointed out that online classes have to serve both campus-based students and the school’s worldwide audience, which means the school has to think about both of these audiences when creating online classes.
“I think it’s actually really good data for BYU-I that our online courses are good, and they’re robust and they’re preparing students for (the) industry,” Watkins said.
This might not be true at other universities, because of how BYU-I does its online programs. Watkins’ research studied only one major at one university, which limited her demographic and sample size.
Watkins concluded that the performance gaps between face-to-face, online and hybrid were shrinking as online programs improved.
She is currently preparing her article for publication.