I observed this in my design major as well – students who read online about their topic and spent a lot of extra time learning the material not only came in better prepared to absorb the material but also came out ahead at the end. The classes certainly improved everybody, but it became clear that independent learning was at least as helpful as the class instruction. One girl I knew came in expecting to be hand-taught everything she needed to know, with no prior experience, and she was consistently one of the worst students in our year –despite dedication to all her classwork. She was clearly aware of what happened and was trying, but didn't get enough guidance from the teachers. I know I struggled with incorrect expectations some as well, though at least I came in with some prior knowledge.
I'm currently studying New Media Design, which is proving to be largely about putting as much fluff into pages as possible. The more I look at Flash websites, the more I'm amazed at how little content there often is, and how frustrating they can be compared to a plain HTML page. Okay, the graphics are awesome, but I don't really like the trade-off with usability on many sites.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm in the right major, because I like good ol HTML pages better.