Online learning resources can potentially be the missing link needed to ensure the success of students, asserts Mark Milliron in The Chronicle. Milliron points out that one of the fastest growing segment of higher education today are non-traditional students such as adult learners and part-time students, among others. Traditional classroom methods aimed at traditional students will not work as well for these students who require more flexibility and convenience to manage their work-study-life commitments. Institutions' teaching methods need to evolve and make full use of the online resources at their disposal (or in the market).
In order to help non-traditional students stay in the program, sometimes the solution can be as simple as adding an online section or online component to the course, which can significantly increase the likelihood of success for a working student or parent. This is because having an online alternative to traditional face-to-face courses can help remove barriers that allow students to complete degrees in a time that best fits their schedules. Other tools such as online-learning-management systems can help students improve their academic performance. For instance, Signals project, which is a program that detects early warning signs in the students' academic performance and provides early intervention can help students succeed at higher rates. The program works by giving up-to-the-minute, predictive-model-based feedback in the form of traffic lights--red, yellow, and green, which lets students know how they are performing in a course before it is too late. Some institutions have turned to online student-service support systems such as Atlas/Life map, which is a system that keeps students on track academically, to ensure that they graduate on time. This system was such a hit with students that the institution which implemented it went on to see their graduation rate (almost) triple that of its peer institutions.
Online learning systems can not only help students complete courses, especially gatekeeper courses, and succeed in them, but may sometimes even help those students outperform their peers who took the same courses the traditional way. In fact, a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students who took all or part of their classes online performed better than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction, as reported in another article in The Chronicle. In addition to the opportunities for meeting learner needs, the ability to attract new students also is great, said The Chronicle. Institutions such as Central Penn have seen a substantial increase of 97% (average) in new student enrollments per term after implementing the Blackboard Learn system. The above results are hardly surprising since online learning systems and tools can provide a rich and supportive learning experience for students, which has allowed online education to meet the needs of so many students.