Latest Research Brief Explores Online Education

​CIC in February released the fifth and final research brief in a series on innovations in teaching and learning that was prepared as part of the Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education. The new brief, High-Tech or High Touch? Online Learning and Independent Higher Education, explores the compatibility of online education with student-focused pedagogy and the potential for lower instructional costs and better student learning outcomes.

The brief summarizes recent research on three questions: Is online education high-quality education? Can online education help traditional institutions reduce instructional costs without sacrificing quality? What are the barriers to incorporating online education into the undergraduate curriculum at independent colleges and universities? Among the key findings:
  • Online education can be at least as effective as traditional classroom instruction—but faculty members remain skeptical about the quality of online courses.
  • Although online education may have the potential to reduce instructional costs at the undergraduate level, the evidence that it actually does so is still inconclusive. Institutional collaboration may be the best path to cost savings.
  • Barriers to the adoption of online learning at independent colleges and universities include uncertain cost models, maintenance of technology infrastructure and support, the potential impact of online learning on faculty roles and incentives, and the pedagogical challenge of adapting new technologies to the tradition of intense student-faculty engagement.
“These research briefs are well designed and provide a helpful overview of the key issues. I’ve shared and discussed them with my colleagues and recommended them to other presidents as well as trustees and faculty members,” Mary B. Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, remarked.

The five research briefs are intended to be practical resources for institutions that are considering new opportunities and strategies. Previous briefs focused on competency-based education, interdisciplinary undergraduate education, career preparation and the liberal arts, and living-learning communities. Each brief includes a review of recent research, identifies examples of proven and promising innovations at CIC member institutions, and poses questions for further discussion. CIC encourages member institutions to share the publications with faculty and staff members, trustees, and supporters as well as local media. All of the research briefs and other recent CIC publications that explore the distinctive strengths of smaller independent colleges and universities are available free of charge at