While I’m always skeptical of research that shows that one form of instruction is “suddenly” better than another, I am thrilled to find this piece. Many schools are still evaluating whether online learning is even valuable for adult and K-12 learners. One would hope that such research would set those biases aside, especially for adult learners in school districts.

However, one of the critical comments that jumped out at me this morning–as I sit here before getting ready for work–is that Learning has to occur in a community. I couldn’t agree more. When you consider the “self-paced” online learning options that are available, my experience of community learning within Moodle, as well as outside of Moodle, just drives home that point. I can’t just be doing it for me, in solitary confinement. Sharing is key, conversations are important.

    • “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
    • The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.
    • “The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.
    • More and more, students will help and teach each other
    • “The technology will be used to create learning communities among students in new ways,” Mr. Regier said. “People are correct when they say online education will take things out the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

Some key findings from the report itself include:

  1. Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students
    have been published.
  2. Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than
    those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. Interpretations of this result,
    however, should take into consideration the fact that online and face-to-face conditions
    generally differed on multiple dimensions, including the amount of time that learners
    spent on task. The advantages observed for online learning conditions therefore may be
    the product of aspects of those treatment conditions other than the instructional delivery
    medium per se.
  3. Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative
    to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
  4. 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.
  5. Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning
    did not affect student learning outcomes significantly. Of those variables, (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.
  6. 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
    (mean effect of +0.35, p < .001) and for graduate students and
    professionals
    (+0.17, p < .05) in a wide range of academic and professional studies.
    Though positive, the mean effect size is not significant for the seven contrasts involving K–12 students, but the number of K–12 studies is too small to warrant much confidence in the mean effect estimate for this learner group. Three of the K–12 studies had
    significant effects favoring a blended learning condition, one had a significant negative
    effect favoring face-to-face instruction, and three contrasts did not attain statistical
    significance.
  7. 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.
  8. Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study
    generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
  9. Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that
    students learn in online classes.
  10. Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with
    media and prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger
    learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective
    when students pursue online learning as individuals.
  11. Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does
    using such mechanisms with individual learners. When groups of students are learning
    together online, support mechanisms such as guiding questions generally influence the
    way students interact, but not the amount they learn.
  12. One should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.
  13. the great majority of estimated effect sizes in the meta-analysis are for undergraduate
    and older students, not elementary or secondary learners. Although this meta-analysis did not
    find a significant effect by learner type, when learners’ age groups are considered separately, the mean effect size is significantly positive for undergraduate and other older learners but not for K–12 students.