The conflicting motivations of online schools and student success

The business plans for online schools conflict with student success. In several cases that I've seen, a successful student actually costs the company more than an unsuccessful student.

Case 1: coastalnavigation.com is an online course that allows students to complete the Canadian Yachting Associations Coastal Navigation Standard. When a student completes the course material, they can sit an examination for the certification. coastlnavigation.com must pay for students to sit the exam. So, students who take the course or take a portion of the course and dropout actually cost the company less than students who successfully complete the course. Don't get me wrong here, I think they have created an excellent product, but what is their motivation to help students succeed? Pure altruism?

Case 2: Ottawa Carleton e-School is an Internet high school offering the curriculum for the Province of Ontario. Students pay a fixed rate to take a course. Teachers are paid based on student success – so if a student passes the midterm they are paid a certain amount and if the student passes the final exam they are paid an additional amount. So, in this case, the teacher is definitely motivated to help the student succeed. But what about the motivations of the company? Again, the company makes more money from students that fail rather than students that succeed.

These are just two examples, there are hundreds if not thousands of online programs. In so many cases, the business goal (to make money) conflicts with student success. The problem is, at each successful milestone, the cost to the company increases. If the company charges the student each time an incremental cost is incurred (to align with the companies actual cost) then the students are not motivated to complete the program. Can you imagine getting the good news notice that you passed your midterm and with it came a bill for the next segment of the course? That doesn't exactly feel like a reward for success. I'm left wondering, how do you build a better model for online education? A model where the goals of the company align with the goals of the students and the teachers. Is it even possible? A tip for anyone shopping for online education, before you choose a program ask these questions:

  • What motivates the company to have successful students?
  • What is their student graduation/success rate?

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