Research on the Effectiveness of K-12 Online Learning – More info

In August I wrote about the U.S. Department of Education research study evaluating the effectiveness of online learning.  iNACOL published a memo A Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K-12 Online Learning this month written by Susan Patrick and Allison Powell that is worth sharing.  The memo contains three sections:

  1. a summary of the major study by the U.S. DOE
  2. a brief literature review of online learning research and studies
  3. future research recommendations

Since I already summarized the U.S. DOE study in a previous post, I will focus on summarizing the significant points from the literature review. 

  • Only a handful of robust evaluation studies on K-12 online learning exist.
  • An independent study was conducted in 2007 by Florida TaxWatch’s Center for Educational Performance and Accountability to evaluate the efficacy and efficiency of the Florida Virtual School.  “The study looked at student demographics, achievement, and cost-effectiveness, finding that during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years FLVS students consistently outperformed their counterparts in Florida’s traditional middle and high schools on such measures as grades, AP scores, and FCAT scores.”  Interestingly (contrary to recent data on costs of virtual schools), the study found that “FLVS is able to offer online instruction at a lower per-student cost than traditional schools.”  Worth noting is that all FLVS teachers are certified and their pay is tied to student performance. 
  • A study by Lowes at Columbia University (2005) found “…that online teaching improves practices in both virtual and face-to-face settings, and 75% of teachers said that teaching online had a positive impact on their face-to-face teaching.”  Hmm, should schools be encouraging teachers to learn how to teach online?  Perhaps these teachers can be reform agents within a school/district?
  • Interaction is key within online learning.  “Teacher have reported that their interactions with students, parents and colleagues were more often focused on teaching and learning in online courses than in the traditional setting (Muirhead 2000).”  In online learning, students seek deeper and stronger relationships, and they value frequent and timely responses to questions (Weiner 2003).
  • In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education published an evaluation report of online programs, one of which was the Washington State Digital Learning Commons (DLC) online courses.  “Of the 115 students who graduated, 33 percent would not have graduated without a course made available through the Digital Learning Commons and 61 percent of the students who participated in the study took advanced classes to better prepare themselves for college.”

Bottom line: more rigorous research on K-12 online learning needs to be conducted… but the existing findings highlight the potential of K-12 online learning to make a difference.