The debate over whether traditional classrooms are more effective than online courses continues to wage on, but a new study may tip the scales in the classrooms' favor. 

According to Columbia University researchers Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, who examined 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community- and technical-college students in Washington State, online students are less likely to obtain a degree than traditional peers. 

The presence of at-risk students is part of the reason they tend to drop out, but "overall, the online format had a significantly negative relationship with both course persistence and course grade, indicating that the typical student had difficulty adapting to online courses,” the researchers wrote. 

The negative impact was also disturbingly high for minorities and other students at risk of dropping out. Regardless of the findings, it's still important to keep in mind that such studies only represent one side of the story. As TechCrunch's Gregory Ferenstein points out, the effect of these massively open online courses (MOOCs) could change as they "scale to a wider population." 

[via TechCrunch]