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.
Some key findings from the report itself include:
- Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students
have been published.
- 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.
- Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative
to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study
generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
- Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that
students learn in online classes.
- 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.
- 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.
- One should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.
- 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.