Progress Report

Here’s What’s Wrong With Online Learning: Kaplan, A Case Study

I've mentioned a few times my skepticism about "Online Courses," and I've received feedback ranging from "everyone learns differently," to "maybe I'm not of the right generation."  I am still open to a great online course experience (Grockit?), albeit slightly hesitant because of my experiences thus far.

Below is a list of examples that show why these online courses have not worked for me, and while these are specific to my current Kaplan SAT course, this is similar to what I've experienced with the other online courses I tried. I have to wonder, who could learn well with issues such as these?

 

1) SPAM: I started my online Kaplan SAT course experience with the Online Quiz Bank, and much as I enjoy reading about UFOs, I prefer my SAT work straight up.

 

2) Next, I moseyed over to the “award winning free Quiz Bank,” which looked promising.

 

3) I clicked all of the boxes, then went to get my questions, and this is how it appeared.  Now granted, it was 10 pm at night, I was tired and had had a glass of wine with dinner.....but even in the light of day I can't read this:

 

4) There were excessive spacing and font issues such as those in the screenshot below that kept me craving old fashioned print books. Are your eyes comfortable reading this font? (mine are not)

 

5) And typos.....

 

6) Good font on this section of Online Course.......

 

7) But it turned out that you can't get to the answers until you finish the entire (and extremely long, I might add) "quiz." When you finally get the answers, they come without the questions.  I realize that memory starts going in your 40s, but can anyone remember question #2 by the time they finish #50?

8) You don't receive any answers until you submit the entire, SAT length long (i.e. nearly 4 hours worth of questions) "diagnostic test."  Personally, I prefer to do a "section" (i.e. 20-25 minutes) and then find out my answers (and solutions) right then and there.

 

9) The submission part of the process then took about an hour because I kept getting bumped over to some other (incorrect) part of the Kaplan website -- and then my Essay was lost.

 

10) After finally completing the diagnostic submission process, I received an email from Kaplan saying that it would be graded and emailed to me within five days.  I felt desperate for  good old fashioned paper Kaplan books by that point where I would have found instantaneous answers.

 

11) 11 days later -- still no diagnosis via email, as promised.  I finally went back to the Online Course to see if "my diagnosis" was on the site and just hadn't been emailed to me, and sure enough, it was.

 

I could do a whole other post about how the "Online Diagnosis" worked, but I think I've illustrated enough frustrations for the moment to show why Online Courses haven't worked for me.

I don't necessarily mean to single Kaplan out, because honestly, I had similar issues with the other two online courses that I tried, which is what lead me to declare that "When It Comes to Learning, I prefer Books."

All that said, I do learn "online," but here's how I *learn*:

  1. I watch videos of smart and inspiring people giving talks.
  2. I read blogs written by people I admire, and the comments.
  3. I search online for specific solutions to problems I can't solve.

And by the way, I'm thoroughly enjoying, and I believe benefitting from, the Kaplan SAT paper books.  I will write a follow up post about what I love about the Kaplan SAT books.

Still open to "Online Courses," but the window of "open" is getting smaller with each frustrating experience.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

 
  • John

    Great comments! Anyone who teaches kids knows that the best learning occurs with immediate feedback. I'd think Kaplan would welcome this kind of thoughtful critique. For the record, I could never do what you're doing--I'm way too A.D.D.D.D....

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I could give feedback such as this (AND MUCH MORE) to all of the places I've tried.

      Learning 101 includes immediate feedback. That was part of what was so unpleasant about it.

      • Marie

        I just completed a Bachelors Degree program through Kaplan University, from start to finish. When I first started Kaplan in 2008, I loved everything about it. I loved the seminar format, I loved the assignment format. I loved how wonderfully nice everyone was to talk to and deal with, including the Academic advisors, Financial Aid and Student Accounts. By 2011 Everything changed. Most everyone I spoke with were difficult. I had a few courses with difficult professors who would not answer questions. I had to retake 2 classes in which I asked for a different professor and supplied the exact same answers and received awesome grades for with the second professor. It wasn't my work that was at issue it was the professor. I am not knocking all professors, I am just saying the professors are people too and as in the real world, not everyone cares or are nice. I liked the live seminar a great deal. When I have a question I could ask it in seminar and get an answer right away and didn't have to wait for an email. I loved that. I loved the ease of scheduling classes when it was best for my time frame. As I neared the end of my time with Kaplan though, my time options were taken away and I had to take classes on the ONLY night they provided instead of being given a choice of which evening and/or day of the week were best for me. Over all I do not regret my decision to attend Kaplan, but I will say that it is my opinion that in the last couple of years Kaplan has digressed instead of improving.

  • http://blog.pwnthesat.com PWN the SAT

    Wow. So many of the things you've pointed out here just reek of phoning it in. Half-baked online presence is far worse than no presence at all.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Agreed. Personally I'm into Worksheets. I like how they feel. Will be doing yours today.

  • http://twitter.com/SheldonWordNerd Sheldon the WordNerd

    Seriously FANTASTIC work, Debbie. I think Kaplan has completely lost its focus with its recent emphasis on Kaplan University (which has brought its own host of problems, but that's a whole different issue). Test prep is low on the priority list, and my understanding is that they're losing market share in what was once their strong suit. I've been very curious about how the online course looked/worked (I'm a former classroom instructor with them), and I really appreciate your insight.

    On another note re: comparison shopping w/ SAT products, I did a small study on SAT podcasts, and found they're mostly awful. Quality in this business is harder to find than it should be! Thanks again.

    Jenn

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Thanks Jen! I'm going to follow up this post with more specifics (from Kaplan as well as the other courses I've taken). Including what's good!

      If you run across things I should test out, please let me know.

  • Jo in OKC

    There are lots of places that do online better, though.

    For example, Art of Problem Solving offers synchronous classes that meet once a week in a moderated chat room. Math is displayed in LaTex, so it's fully typeset. There are assistants available to provide help on the side for people who send the instructor messages that they're having problems. The main classroom chat is logged, so people can refer to it later. Problems are posted and discussed in forums after class. There are open classroom times to meet and discuss things with other students. It's not for everyone -- some prefer lectures or video of a whiteboard to the chat room interface and the synchronous format means it doesn't work for people who can't meet at those times, but it's remarkably effective for some people.

    Aleks.com is also a fairly successful online math course. It's completely individualized (you pick the course to study and start in that course wherever the initial placement test says you should). You can pick which topic to study in the course among any that you have the pre-reqs for. You get credit for a topic (some of the topics are extremely tiny) after working 3 problems correctly and can move on to the next topic. Again, there's no video and no flashy animations. The explanation is plain text, with maybe a drawing or graph when necessary. Periodic assessments can give you credit for more topics or send you back to work on already-covered topics again. It's not my first choice for learning new material, but it's great for review/refresher or if you think you already know most of what's covered in a course and just need to knock out the last bits. It's also empowering for people who want more choice than just a straight line through the material.

    eIMACS is more of a niche market, but their mathematical logic courses combine good online text instruction and interactive problems/quizzes with a tutor available by e-mail if you have questions or issues.

    None of these places phone it in.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Thanks so much. I am going to check all of these out. Very excited for the math courses.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Wow. I just glanced at them all. They look amazing. Very excited to try them out. Don't have time today.....but soon! Thanks for the great suggestions.

  • Anonymous

    I've taken some work-related online classes through UCLA Extension and Northeastern in the past and thought they were fine. Not comparable to my undergrad courses at Stanford but at least as good as what I've seen at the local community college. Plus WAY more convenient.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Good to hear! I've heard a few stories such as that, and I'm hoping I find the equivalent for SAT Test Prep. As I said, still hoping!

  • http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/ gasstationwithoutpumps

    This does sound like a truly terrible course—I hope you didn't have to pay for it. By way of contrast, the Precalculus course my son is taking from Art of Problem Solving is excellent. They meet in a chatroom for a couple hours weekly, then have problem sets to work on. There is a forum where the students discuss their solutions (and partial solutions) to the problems. The math is very challenging—most of the problems are difficult enough not be mere exercises, and 10 problems a week is plenty to keep the students busy for hours.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      I did pay for it. I can't recall how much right mow -- but maybe $150? (versus $20 book).

      A few people have mentioned The Art of Problem Solving a's a great experience. I can't wait to check it out.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like I should have my son sign up too.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NVTKMDOUBWB2HMBGDXZBZDUWDQ Eitan at Kaplan College Prep

    I work at Kaplan and wanted to post a response… which turned into a bit of a blog post itself! Apologies for the length, but I hope that it is helpful.

    First of all, we definitely appreciate the feedback. One of the challenges of providing online SAT material is that the test itself is actually still paper-based. When students take the printed version of the test, it’s more test-like. That said, we know that students really value the convenience of a wholly online experience. This is something that we discuss almost daily. We love hearing from our customers to see what they think, because it’s often a polarizing topic, and we are always looking to improve our offering, so thank you for your thoughtful feedback.

    To address some of the points you made:

    1) Spam on the Forum: Unfortunately we have seen a large increase in spam on our message boards lately. It’s important to us to preserve this space for students to connect with us and with each other, so we are currently in the process of replacing this forum and add better spam filters to fix the spam issues you noticed.

    2) QuizBank material: QuizBank is not designed to be a comprehensive product, but a bank of free practice material. We know that it's not perfect, but we've heard from our customers that they find great value in being able to customize quizzes and practice for free. Nonetheless, we are currently working to update our free QuizBank content with material from our new courses (including the On Demand course you mentioned that is $149) to address the issues you noticed – correcting typos, improving the font and design.

    3) Submitting Practice Test answers: It’s important that students submit their scores at the end of the exam rather than after each section to get as close to a real test experience as possible. We also wouldn’t show any score information before the end of the full exam because many concepts appear in multiple questions throughout the test, so seeing feedback before the end of the exam could influence students’ scores.

    4) Practice Test Essay: The waiting period to receive your score report is due to the fact that the essay needs to be graded offline. Because the essay represents 25% of the Writing section score, we can’t provide a score report or even an accurate estimate of your overall score until the essay’s been reviewed.
    I’d definitely like to connect with you to learn more about your experience submitting your essay on the website. We certainly don’t want anyone to lose their work (how frustrating – I’m sorry!) or to feel confused about where to go next. I’m also sorry to hear you didn’t get an email when your score was available. Is it possible that the email about your Practice Test score got trapped in your junk mail or spam folder? Please look for an email from me later today so that we can discuss in more detail!

    You mentioned that you learn best through video – if you’d like to take a look at the video content from our new courses, you can watch the instructional videos on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/KaplanSATACT.

    Thanks again for your feedback - I look forward to speaking with you more via email!

    - Eitan at Kaplan Test Prep

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Hi Eitan,

      Here's the abbreviated response: The chronic font issues make the online course feel like drudgery.

      The benefits of waiting to get answers to mimic the full exam is not the experience I'm having as I don't have time to do an entire test most of the time. So an entire test takes weeks. Again, feels like drudgery rather than fun. Also not helpful. Not sure who has time to to block out that sort of time. I can tell you my kids don't either.

      Five days to score a test online is absurd.

      It was not in my spam or junk mail. I checked before I posted that.

      Re the videos -- you didn't look at the ones I posted that showed what I like, as they were not the type that you are referring to. I find instructional videos boring and I don't find I learn from them -- unless I go in with a precise question and am looking for a specific solution. Otherwise, the pacing isn't right and I drift off and do other things and don't learn.

      That's all I have time to say right more, but honestly, this was the tip of the iceberg with my Kaplan online experience.

      Feel free to connect with me privately if you would like to continue the conversation.

      Best,
      Debbie

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3XG27HF2HY56OGDDVGCNE5ZB3E Michael

    There are other online sites that can help in your SAT preparation. Go to collegeinsightsonline.com

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  • http://www.internationaltelescope.com Ricardo

    There are some new issues that obviously are not well managed in online education. But It worked quite good for me when I studied at UNED University I am an Spaniard and I could complete my second career thanks to online education. I got some problems too, but I think the entire outcome was quite useful at the end.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Thanks. I agree-- there are definitely potentially some great aspects of online learning too. I'm going to be trying Grockit next month and am excited and hopeful that it will be a great experience.

    • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

      Thanks. I agree-- there are definitely potentially some great aspects of online learning too. I'm going to be trying Grockit next month and am excited and hopeful that it will be a great experience.

  • http://www.internationaltelescope.com Ricardo

    There are some new issues that obviously are not well managed in online education. But It worked quite good for me when I studied at UNED University I am an Spaniard and I could complete my second career thanks to online education. I got some problems too, but I think the entire outcome was quite useful at the end.

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