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Monday, August 24, 2009

Online Education: Better than the Classroom?

A recent study issued by the United States Department of Education, titled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning found that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.

The study is a study of studies (meta-analysis), meaning they looked at many studies comparing online, face-to-face and blended learning and then drew conclusions. Of course it seems to come down to the fact that well design e-learning is good sound instruction.

Here is a portion of the abstract to the paper:
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those 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. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.

Here are some more of the findings:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes. The research does not support the use of some frequently recommended online learning practices. Inclusion of more media in an online application does not appear to enhance learning. The practice of providing online quizzes does not seem to be more effective than other tactics such as assigning homework.
  • 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.

However, before online learning designers can open the champagne, a few caveats from the study:

As quoted from the study:
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. [Kapp's Note: Read "Instructional design was better in the online course."]

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.

So it appears that the more time someone spends learning a topic and the better the DESIGN OF THE INSTRUCTION...the more learners learn...makes sense (elearning allows for the expansion of learning time which, I believe, is probably the difference in the amount of learning, not the medium itself and forces instructional design as opposed to the "winging-it" done in many classrooms.)

Students seem to spend more time actually learning or studying in online courses than in face-to-face according to this analysis of studies.

Another interesting and random-as it relates to this blog post-fact... "more than a million K–12 students took online courses in school year 2007–08." K-12 kids are taking online courses and a lot of them! This phenomenon is only going to grow.

Here is what the New York Times says in its article about the study: Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom

Thank you to Mark!! for the wonderful lead on the article.

What do you think?

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Andy said...

I can't tell you how many times I have been at a customer site providing stand-up instruction and learners are shocked by the fact that I have an understanding of instructional design. I think if more instructors had the background this might have presented different results. So many times in Corporate America people are just thrown into a training role without the skills needed for it.

I am a huge proponent of online learning but I wish more people used the principles behind the design in their Instructor-Led training as well. I think this study shows the need for it.

Awesome post.

Dave Ferguson said...

The well-designed aspect comes into play in many forms. Job-aid analysis, for instance -- something you ought to be doing way before any delivery decision -- requires you to look at certain skills and the context in which they're performed.

As a result, you find situations in which factors like frequency, complexity, stability, or consequence of error are telling you, pretty clearly, "you ought to create a job aid."

Which in translation means "no, you don't need to develop training for this."

Jon Aleckson said...

Great summary of this important report…I assume your concluding remarks indicate that you believe online learning to be taking K-12 by storm? I agree that online learning encourages greater preparation and design. Yet, I would guess there are online teachers and developers that still “wing it” using CMS authoring tools or not using them and simply posting electronic readings or page turners! So little media or computer generated simulations have been utilized that I would think the "word" is still out on whether it has greater impact on learning. There were too many "words" and too much web page reading required in online learning courses over the last two decades. How about the eMedia (AV) affect on increasing the learners attention/focus and engagement in the material? Nevertheless, some of us know that it is easier "to sleep" during a F2F class than when participating in a demanding online class.

Unknown said...

Classroom is better than online according to me because there are no distractions in the classrooms and if we get doubts we can clarify it better....

Karl Kapp said...

Andy, I couldn't agree more. Instructional design is such an important part of the learning process, yet is ignored by so many, in so many different learning events. From the classroom to informal learning. Thanks for the comment.

Dave, yes, training needs to be a last resort. Learning can happen with so many different ways from a job-aid to a book, to a comment on Twitter.

Jon, I think online learning will increase in K-12 and grow but, never, I hope, take over. Schools, for better or worse, are about far more than learning--socializing is a big part. So, I think we need to keep a balance of online and face-to-face in schools. Also, I have seen online learning designed so poorly it has made me cry. So, online learning is not perfect...again it all comes down to design.

Carol, I agree there can be many distractions in online learning. But I've been distracted in a classroom as well by people walking by, outside noises, even flys buzzing around. The secret to avoiding distractions is to have a lesson that is engaging and well-designed. I've been so absorbed in a class sometimes that I didn't hear the instructor tell us it was time for a break. So, I think both environments can work...provided the instruction is appropriately designed!

Unknown said...

I understand your point and you are right. Online learning performed better than students in face-to-face classrooms. Surprising? Not really. Online education has many benefits. Such as It's easily tailored to the individual learner's needs. Online courses can teach in your learning style, at your learning level, Also online education helps to cut down wasted time in traveling to and from school while providing flexible scheduling that can enables you to fully utilize your time.

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daniel john said...

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Aathira Nair said...

Online study groups have a very interesting methodology employed which makes learning fun and also a more interactive activity. These study guides were one such deal for me.

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Steve Mc Smith said...

Online education is really very much helpful for all as for this you do not need to go to attend classes and you can do your classes at your home.

Online traffic school also helps students to take their traffic school courses that are accessible online and they can start it any time with any computer with internet connection.

Unknown said...

It is a very good article and you discussed a very important topic at here. I think online education is a very helpful for the financial poor students!
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anthony said...

Since, online education are very much easy to access and to avail the different educational course program because the only main requirements that are needed are the computer gadgets and internet connection. With the convenience of online learning, it also offers an affordable educational expenditure rate compare to the campus based schools and for that, it allows individuals who came from a family of low income learners to forego their higher educational learning.

Unknown said...

Excellent Opportunity to Study

Many people still think of online education as a way to take an extra class to supplement their brick-and- mortar education. However, online education, or distance learning, is becoming an increasingly popular way to complete an entire degree. More people are turning to distance learning to complete associates, bachelors and masters degrees……

Unknown said...

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nick said...

This is great information – its encouraging to see online education is becoming more widely accepted and the benefits are backed up by a range of studies.

Unknown said...

Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up the good work

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admin said...

Computer-based learning and E-learning development has already caught millions of students to participate in this new way of getting a degree. That is because in online training, they can maximize the time spent in learning several topics included in the course.

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EJ said...

I think online learning is just the most cost effective training solutions out there! Id done properly, this could totally replace conventional face to face approach in the near future.