Online Learning makes Students Perform Better

online learning conditions

Students perform better in online learning

On average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes is larger when blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction are included.

50 independent effects in a meta-analysis

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, 50 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis.

The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).

Clear recommendation

The clearest recommendation for practice that can be made is to incorporate mechanisms that promote student reflection on their level of understanding. Using effects that trigger learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding have on individual students’ online learning outcomes.

However, studies also show that features usually associated with the computer-based instruction, including the incorporation of quizzes, simulations, and techniques for individualizing instruction not always work. Some studies show that providing of simple multiple-choice quizzes did not appear to enhance online learning. The incorporation of simulations produced positive effects in two out of three studies. Individualizing online learning by dynamically generating learning content based on the student’s responses was found to be effective in some studies.

 

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, Revised September 2010. Read more…

 

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