Student to faculty ratio has long been considered an important factor in classroom success. As online educational programs are broadening the confines of traditional education to make it more accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds and financial situations, class size may be less of a consideration for many online college applicants. The differences in class structure between traditional and online education may make it more difficult for aspiring online students to know what is truly important in determining the quality of their academic experience. Class sizes are one factor that is equally important across educational formats. However, the challenges and advantages of online classes should be taken into account when deciding how heavily to weigh the variable of class size.

The Structure of Online Classes

Depending on the area of study, online college courses can be set up in a number of different ways. Discussion-based classes rely on class chat rooms or forums set up for students to engage one another in conversation. Some online classes use conference calls or video chat to accomplish class discussion goals in a speech-oriented way, but this method is less common than text-based ones as it can be complicated to orchestrate discussions over a multi-way communication system.

Students usually upload assignments and projects for instructors to provide feedback. Many online classes include worksheets, quizzes, or other assignments that can be completed via online forms and graded automatically. While some instructors offer live lectures that students must log in to view at a particular time, others post recordings of the class material that can be viewed at students’ convenience.

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Benefits of Small Online Class Sizes

With the specific structure of online classes in mind, there are several reasons why a low student to faculty ratio can create a better academic experience. In cases where text-based discussion or messaging is a major component of the class, teachers with large class sizes may be unable to sufficiently participate in or moderate the conversation. Without the guidance of a professor, online classroom text discussions are less likely to be productive in helping students learn and think critically about course material. Additionally, since offering written feedback to students can be more time consuming than responding verbally in person, professors with smaller class sizes will have the time to offer detailed, personalized feedback to each student.

Factors to Consider

While small class sizes are important to effective online education, somewhat larger online classes may be more successful than traditional ones. In physical classrooms, the ratio of one staff member to approximately every 15 students seems to offer positive benefits. Slightly larger class sizes of twenty students may see similar benefits within online programs. This is because online classrooms do not require the task of classroom management, and many online assignments may be graded automatically, cutting down on the instructor’s workload. Students in classes that may include a higher number of automated assignments, for instance, need not view class size as critically as they might for discussion-based courses.

The Guardian asserts that the number of students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees online will continue to grow. Online students should seek out programs that provide a low student to faculty ratio in order to make the most of their education.

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