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Colleges are walking away from remote education – and that’s a good thing

Remote learning is consistently shown to yield lower grades and lower engagement. Students don't love it either


More than a decade ago Clayton Christiansen, a Harvard business professor who coined the idea of disruptive innovation, predicted that technology would revolutionize higher education. Many believe this time has come, with the tipping point being the pandemic — which resulted in widespread adoption of remote, technology-assisted teaching. The normalization of remote learning does seem to make sense, culturally; after all,  isn’t this technology-based approach to education more consistent with how young people live and work already? And if students want it, perhaps higher education will finally replace face-to-face teaching with technology-based approaches to learning.

Yet nearly all colleges have re-adopted in-person education this fall, in spite of delta variant risks. Why is this? As it turns out, student enthusiasm for remote learning is mixed at best, and in some cases students have sued their colleges for refunds. But it is not simply student opinion that has driven this reversion to face-to-face education.

Indeed, students are far better off with in-person learning than with online approaches. Recent research indicates that the effects of remote learning have been negative. As the Brookings Institution Stephanie Riegg reports, “bachelor’s degree students in online programs perform worse on nearly all test score measures—including math, reading, writing, and English—relative to their counterparts in similar on-campus programs.”

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