...As it turns out, it depends.
Inside Higher Ed recently published its fifth annual Survey of Faculty Attitudes Toward Technology, conducted in collaboration with researchers from Gallup. These reports cover a range of attitudinal questions on ed tech, online education, and new models of delivering course content. One of the key findings of this year's report, as described in a Gallup blog, is that there is still a high level of disagreement among faculty of the relative merits of online courses versus traditional face to face courses, but there are some important nuances to the results. The survey finds that a majority of faculty (55%) "disagree or strongly disagree" with the idea that online courses can deliver the same student outcomes that in-person courses produce. Among faculty who have actually taught online, however, there is a much more positive view of the ability for online education to match in-person courses.
"About four in 10 faculty say they have taught an online course. These faculty are increasingly optimistic about the equality of online and in-person courses the "closer to home" the educational context; 32% agree or strongly agree that equal outcomes are achievable for online and in-person courses at any institution, and 52% agree or strongly agree this is possible for the classes they teach. Those who have taught online are four times more likely than their inexperienced peers to agree or strongly agree that equal learning outcomes can be achieved for online and in-person versions of the classes they teach (52% vs. 12%)."
Furthermore, faculty who have taught online also say the new teaching medium has forced them to reevaluate how they teach and develop new strategies for engaging students and delivering content effectively. Overall, 79% of faculty who have taught online say that the experience has made them better teachers both online and in-person.
While the academy is clearly divided on the ability of online courses to deliver similar results to in-person courses (a healthy tension that is likely to continue), more and more faculty are being exposed to online teaching and seeing tangible benefits. In the end, it may not be the technology itself, but the opportunity technology affords faculty to rethink and improve their approach to teaching that drives incremental, educator-driven improvements across higher education.