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As More Colleges Experiment With Online Remediation, Some Students Flourish While Many Others Fall Behind

Unlike lecture courses, online programs allow students to plug away at their own speed on problems matched to their individual learning needs — a format that works well for some students. But there are also pitfalls to that approach.

Students who arrive with the biggest gaps in their learning can easily fall behind in computer-based courses — especially students “who don’t have great study skills and aren’t super self-directed,” said Maggie Fay, a researcher who has studied such classes. And even in supervised courses like Guiste’s, the instructors can struggle to catch students who veer off track.

“The theory of action on online remediation sounds very promising,” said Fay, who is a research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. But most of the independent research has “not shown super strong outcomes.”

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