No tests, no learning – Online classes fail to help students learn content


Online classes can be a blessing or a curse.

Unfortunately, I have found that they are mostly a curse. These classes are less engaging and hold students to low standards, neither of which are conducive to learning.

Tess Fox

Last summer I took two Independent Study courses. I was expected to read chapters and complete corresponding multiple choice and essay questions. These lessons would be corrected by my professor. The tests, given by proctors, were taken from the same material.

Because I was being tested regularly, I had external motivation to study. Personally, I did not like having to read the lecture, but it worked when the material was paired with regular tests and quizzes. I learned a lot from these classes, plus doing homework outside in the grass beats a classroom during the summer.

This semester I”m taking an Integrated Science class online, and I am not impressed. Lectures are given in the form of PDFs. After that, I complete an outline on the lecture, watch a video, answer questions and find a news article relating to the topic. I can complete all of this in about 30 minutes.

Each assignment contains three to five questions at the most. The videos are from PBS and other educational sources, so those are actually enjoyable. But the rest of it feels like busy work.

I can spend serious time on giving good responses to questions, or I can slop my way through it and answer with incomplete sentences. Either way, I get 100 percent. This doesn”t make any sense.

In any other class, I”d be proud that I have 100 percent overall.   But I”m being rewarded with the full point value for doing the bare minimum. The standard is so low. Why? Just because this is an online, 200-level class doesn”t mean that students shouldn”t be expected to learn.

There aren”t any tests in this class either. Not being tested on material means that there is no motivation for me to try to put the material in long-term storage.

For the midterm assignment, we wrote a proposal for the final project. A copy of the rubric is on Blackboard, listing the number of sentences per paragraph. For the entire assignment, the limit was 20 sentences – only 20.

Without the opportunity to take notes, students are missing out on one of the best ways to learn. A study conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer at University of California Los Angeles showed that people remember class material better when they write their notes by hand.

With online classes, students don”t get a typical lecture experience. Reading is a great way to learn material, but taking handwritten notes is better.

A great alternative would be for professors to record lectures so students could listen to a lecture and take notes, as well as providing a PDF of the slides. This could engage students, but still offer the flexibility associated with online classes. In addition, students could listen to lectures while walking home, doing chores or commuting. This method also accommodates a variety of learning styles.

Scheduling between my major and two minors can get dicey, so it”s likely I will take another online class in the future. It would be great if, when I take my next class, it is as challenging as a regular class.

Online classes are a blessing for the schedule and curse for learning, and the whole point of college is to learn.

Tess Fox  can be reached at  or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos

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