Improving Student Performance: The Case for Traditional Classrooms

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An education is crucial for success in today’s society.  Yet, many students face personal and economic challenges that prevent them from completing their education.  Working students or students who live at a further distance from school may have difficulties attending school in person.  Due to the barriers faced by students, online education has been recommended as an alternative for students who may have trouble attending class in person.  However, an examination of the advantages and disadvantages of online education reveals that simply enrolling students in an online education program is a hasty solution to these problems.  Often accessibility comes at the expense of the educational quality that a student receives.  Promoting the traditional classroom experience is preferable to expanding online education because it suits the preferences of students and results in the best outcomes for students.

Advocates of the online education system assert that students who face difficulties attending school have the potential to thrive academically in an online class setting.  Though online courses are often associated with inferior quality, many supporters of online learning point to research that challenges this assumption.  According to a study by Hawkins et al. (2013) surveying 2,269 Utah online education students, completing online education does not have a negative effect on effect on academic performance (2013, p. 78).  Students who completed their studies online had no significant difference in grade point than students who attended college in person (2013, p. 78).  Thus, the study supports the idea that online courses do not have to come at the expense of a student’s academic performance.

Supporters of online education also believe that the belief that online students lack support to complete their studies is a premature determination.  While Hawkins et al. reveal that online students failed to complete their studies at a higher rate than that of traditional classroom students, the research revealed that enhancing the interactivity of online classes could positively affect completion rates (2013, p. 79).  Students who felt satisfied by online class interactions showed lower disparities in course completion than students who were dissatisfied with their actions (2013, p. 77).  As a result of these and similar findings, online education supporters are optimistic that the expansion of online education programs can be used to deliver a quality education to students that parallels the education received in a traditional classroom.

However, the main drawback of online education that should be considered is that the expansion of virtual campuses often stands in opposition to the wishes of students.  In many states, colleges have already begun expanding their online course offerings, increasing the number of students enrolled in online courses.  However, Los Angeles Times reporter Carla Rivera (2013) cautions that even students who have access to online education would prefer to attend school in person (para. 3).  Currently, 27 percent of California community college students take at least one online course (para. 6).  As Rivera elaborates, only 10 percent of surveyed California student expressed an interest in taking online courses while 90 percent expressed an interest in taking traditional or hybrid classes that allow for in-person interaction (para. 6).  The survey also revealed that a common reason that students preferred face-to-face interaction was that they believed they learned better in a traditional setting (para. 3).  Clearly, pressuring students to take online courses can undermine the learning styles of students.

Further research demonstrates that students may be correct in their belief that traditional classrooms improve their performance.  While supporters of online education point to research that demonstrate that academic performance does not necessarily suffer from online education, other studies reveal that the findings of these studies are not conclusive.  According to research conducted by Molnar et al. (2013), surveying students across the United States rather than in just one specific region, online education students performed significantly worse on performance metrics than traditional school students (2013, p. 30).  During the 2010 and 2011 school year, there was a 28 percent point performance difference between online students and traditional classroom students on metric evaluations (2013, p. 30).  Thus, while students may be able to maintain their grade point average, they do not necessarily retain the material at the same level as traditional classroom students.  

Further, school completion rates for online students were less than half the national average.  As the study reveals, the graduation rates for online students is especially abysmal, at 37. 6 percent compared to 79.4 percent for traditional students (p. 33).  The main reason that the Molnar et al. study yields a different picture than favorable online education studies is that the research includes online education programs across the entire country rather than a specific city or state.  Thus, comprehensive research reveals that online education does indeed result in an achievement gap between traditional to technology-based classroom students.

Many proponents of online education believe that expanding online education offerings is an effective method of increasing access to education.  They also assert that online education can be delivered with few disadvantages to the students.  While many limited studies provide a favorable picture of online education, students and comprehensive studies show the drawbacks to expanding virtual classrooms.  First, while online education is perceived to be convenient, it is not as highly desired as proponents may assume.  Second, students believe that they learn better in a traditional classroom environment and research confirms their perceptions that traditional classrooms yield better results.  Thus, educational institutes should focus on making traditional instruction more accessible to students in alternative to expanding their online course options.


Hawkins, A., Graham, C.R., Sudweeks, R.R., & Barbour, M.K. (2013). Academic performance, course completion rates, and student perception of the quality and frequency of interaction in a virtual high school. Distance Education, 34(1), 64-83. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.770430

Molnar, A., Miron, G., Huerta, L., Rice, J.K., Cuban, L., Horvitz, B., Gulosina, C., & Shafer, S.R. (2013, May 2). The National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Rivera, C. (2013, Apr. 25). Study says many online students prefer face-to-face classes. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from