How Technology Affects Developmental Education

December 19, 2019

Developmental courses that use technology to let students move at their own pace may hurt students in the long run, according to a working paper from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness.

The study, published last month, analyzed a technology-centered model used in developmental math courses at public colleges in Tennessee. In these courses, students learn at their own pace using a computer-based platform, while faculty serve as tutors during class time.

Community college students who were enrolled in classes using this model were 5.7 percentage points less likely to pass their first college-level math course compared to students in traditional developmental math courses, according to the report. These students also completed about 1.6 fewer credits over six terms and were 3.7 percentage points less likely to complete any credential within six years.

There were some upsides for students enrolled in four-year colleges, however. Those in the hybrid technology courses were more likely to pass the developmental math course, and also completed it in 0.5 fewer terms, the report said. Still, they were 5.4 percentage points less likely to pass their first college-level math course and five percentage points less likely to persist from their second to third year of college. Thus, the technology-based instruction could help these students pass developmental courses faster, but it didn't help them as they moved on to college-level courses.

When separated by age and gender, female community college students in these courses had lower pass rates for college-level courses compared to males, but males earned fewer credits over time. Older community college students took more time to complete the technology-centered courses but didn't experience differences in passing college-level math courses.

At four-year colleges, the different effects on males and females were similar to those in community colleges. However, older students taking these courses had higher pass rates in development math and spent less time in the courses than traditional-age students.

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