I was looking at the gradebooks for my last several semesters of intro courses, both face-to-face and online, and was reminded that there appear to be significantly higher rates of students failing to complete my online sections, either when students drop the course (after the first week) or when students fail to earn enough points to pass. This is fairly widely known, but I began to wonder if it has less to do with the pedagogy and more to do with the student demographics. More precisely, I wonder if the same factors that make online courses attractive lead to, or at least contribute to, those higher failure rates.
Adult students, for example, have busy lives with families and jobs to be responsible for. They may also have less time, flexibility and/or ability to react to shocks. A sick family member imposes different stresses on a parent who is a college student than on a traditional age undergraduate.
So perhaps we should expect lower success rates for online courses, rather than thinking of it as a shortcoming of them.