Online learning in higher education: exploring advantages and disadvantages for engagement

  • Amber D. Dumford
  • Angie L. Miller


As the popularity of online education continues to rise, many colleges and universities are interested in how to best deliver course content for online learners. This study explores the ways in which taking courses through an online medium impacts student engagement, utilizing data from the National Survey of Student Engagement. Data was analyzed using a series of ordinary least squares regression models, also controlling for relevant student and institutional characteristics. The results indicated numerous significant relationships between taking online courses and student engagement for both first-year students and seniors. Those students taking greater numbers of online courses were more likely to engage in quantitative reasoning. However, they were less likely to engage in collaborative learning, student-faculty interactions, and discussions with diverse others, compared to their more traditional classroom counterparts. The students with greater numbers of online courses also reported less exposure to effective teaching practices and lower quality of interactions. The relationship between these engagement indicators and the percentage of classes taken online suggests that an online environment might benefit certain types of engagement, but may also be somewhat of a deterrent to others. Institutions should consider these findings when designing online course content, and encourage faculty to contemplate ways of encouraging student engagement across a variety of delivery types.


Online education Higher education Student engagement Assessment 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Indiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

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