Online learning brings students of varied backgrounds together in a virtual classroom. Researchers wanted to understand how these backgrounds affect academic performance, and whether demographics can predict performance in an online class. To do this, they examined the characteristics and learning outcomes of students in four courses offered by Open University. The researchers examined how geographic region, neighborhood socioeconomic status, education level, age, gender, and disability status of students impacted grades in Open University courses. Anyone in the UK can enroll in an online Open University course, regardless of educational background, location, or credential.
The researchers started by using the demographic characteristics and assessment scores of 289 students from one Open University course to create a model to predict how each variable impacts academic performance. Then, they compared their model to the demographic characteristics and academic performance of a new cohort of students in the same course, and repeated the process with three other courses.
In the first course, the researchers found that region and neighborhood socioeconomic status had the strongest correlation with lower academic performance. Gender and disability had little apparent impact on grades. While education level and age were associated with lower grades on some tests, there was no consistent correlation between these factors and grades in the course.
When the researchers used their results from this experiment to predict other students’ performance in the same course, their results were moderately accurate. However, when they looked at the connection between demographic factors and academic performance in other courses, the apparent impact of different characteristics differed. For example, lower educational level was associated with lower performance in some courses but not others.
These results show that there is no straightforward connection between demographic characteristics and academic performance in online courses. Different student characteristics are more (or less) relevant depending on the course. While it is important for educators to be mindful of the impact of students’ backgrounds on academic outcomes, the mixed results of this study preclude any strong assertion of a particular demographic characteristics' impact on online learning.Pexels.