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Going the Distance on Engagement

NSSE report shows higher engagement levels for distance ed students.
University Business, Dec 2006

Traditional-age students taking classes on campus are hardly the only ones interacting with faculty, having enriching educational experiences, and engaging in reflective learning. In fact, these are three activities in which distance ed students have reported significantly higher participation compared with traditional campus-based learners. This was one finding of the 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement, which included nearly 260,000 first-year and senior students attending 523 U.S. four-year colleges and universities; about 4,000 respondents from 367 different institutions were taking all of their courses online when they were surveyed in spring 2006.

These distance learners tended to be older, first-generation college students, and enrolled part time. They also spent more time working and caring for dependents. As might be expected, they were much less likely to participate in active and collaborative learning activities. Still, distance education students reported higher levels of academic challenge and were more satisfied overall with their educational experience.

More than half of first-year and 70 percent of seniors who were taking their classes online were adult learners. Among all adult learner respondents, they have higher participation, compared to traditional-age seniors, in classroom activities such as asking questions, contributing to discussions, and preparing two or more paper drafts before submitting. They have much less participation, however, in activities such as foreign language study, study abroad, faculty-assisted research, and co-curricular activity.

The takeaway? Don't forget that the educational and personal needs of distance learning students may differ from those of other students. They may need encouragement to explore co-curricular opportunities.

The report, "Engaged Learning: Fostering Success of All Students," is available for $20 at -M.E.

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