Research finds online learning more effective than traditional classroom instruction

A very interesting research study conducted by SRI for the U.S. Department of Education entitled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning:  A Meta-analysis and Review of Online Learning Studiespresents a powerful conclusion that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”  Students who complete some or all of the work online rank at the 59th percentile compared to the average conventional students who rank at the 50th percentile.

The study is part of a larger research initiative to provide policy-makers, administrators and educators with research-based guidance about how to implement online learning for K–12 education and teacher preparation.

Researchers examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008.  Analysts noted that the blended conditions associated with online learning often resulted in additional learning time and integrated instructional elements not received by students in a traditional (face-to-face) setting.  Researchers are careful to state that the resulted benefits are not necessarily due to the mediumbut rather “…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 advantage.”  Ah!  A fact that we as educators have known all along – curriculum and pedagogy make all the difference!  However, what is very encouraging is that we are seeing pedagogical best practices successfully implemented within a new delivery method – online!

An interesting finding (not entirely surprising though) is that there were only a small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning for K-12 students.  Rather, much of the research has been conducted in higher education, medical training, adult education, etc.  So, caution is required in generalizing to the K-12 population.

The study is dense but worth a review.  Also, here is a NY Times article discussing the study.