I've just read a new Canadian study from Memorial University of Newfoundland entitled The Impact of High School Distance e-Learning Experience on Rural Students’ University Achievement and Persistence (Dodd, Kirby, Seifert, Sharpe. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XII, Number I, Spring 2009).
The authors examined the success rates of first year university students and compared those with experience of distance learning from high school to those with only traditional classroom learning at high school. The results show that those with previous experience of distance learning had a higher success rate at university than the control group (regardless of the type of instruction used at university).
To quote from the abstract:
"The rapid growth of information technologies has influenced the way in which education is delivered and experienced. Little is currently known about the impact of distance education experience at the secondary level of the educational system on subsequent educational pursuits in the post-secondary education system. This research utilized archival data to explore the impact of high school on-line education experience on students’ performance and persistence in the first year of university. The results of this analysis suggest that first year university performance and persistence is significantly different for students who have previous experience with on-line education experiences and those who do not."
The reason for this would seem be that the distance students had developed a higher degree of self discipline and more independent study habits and as a result were better equipped to succeed in higher education.
I often get asked if distance courses are as good as campus-based ones and I reply that in many courses the net-based version is better in that you learn so much more. It should be seen as an advantage that you have taken a net-based course since not only have you studied the subject, you have also developed networking skills, learned to use a variety of net-based communication and presentation tools and participated in virtual teamwork. All those skills are vital in today's globalised job market and should be taught to all students.
Nobody asks if accountants really need to use Excel and net-based accounting resources; they are essential tools for the job. Why should we be so cautious with technology in teaching?