Friday, July 10, 2009

Online Learning is Effective

by Daniel L. Bennett

The Department of Education recently released a meta-analysis of online learning. The study's main finding:
...on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
The authors screened more than 1,000 empirical studies on online learning for ones that:
(a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition,
(b) measured student learning outcomes,
(c) used a rigorous research design, and
(d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size.
Other findings included:
(1) Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction;
(2) Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning;
(3) Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly. Of 13 learning practice variations, (a) the use of a blended rather than a purely online approach and (b) the expansion of time on task for online learners were the only statistically significant influences on effectiveness;
(4) The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types. Online learning appeared to be an effective option for both undergraduates and and for graduate students and
(5) Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online and face-to-face conditions varied in terms of curriculum materials and aspects of instructional approach in addition to the medium of instruction. Of six methodological variables, only equivalence of curriculum and instruction emerged as a significant moderator variable;
(6) Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study
generally result in similar student learning outcomes;
(7) Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.
(8) Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection;
(9) Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.
The study concludes that:
blended instruction has been more
effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches. Even when used by itself, online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction
and noted some caveats:
Despite what appears to be strong support for online learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium, In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.
In other words, the consensus of empirical research suggests that online education is at least as effective, if not more, than face-to-face, especially if the two are blended.

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