Aug 052011

Online Learning: Evaluation of Evidence Based Practices in Online Learning

Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of  Online Learning Studies

Online Learning: US Department of Education, Revised September, 2010

Online Learning Conclusions:

In recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online learning and face-to face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended  approaches. When used by itself, online learning appears to be as effective as conventional classroom instruction, but not more so.

However, several caveats are in order: Despite what appears to be strong support for blended learning applications, 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 blended learning, 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 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.

In addition, although the types of online learning  research designs used by the studies in the meta-analysis were strong (i.e., experimental or controlled quasi-experimental), many of the studies suffered from weaknesses such as small sample sizes; failure to report retention rates for students in the conditions being contrasted; and, in many cases, potential bias stemming from the authors’ dual roles as experimenters and instructors.

Finally, 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.

Another consideration is that various online learning implementation practices may have differing effectiveness for K–12 learners than they do for older students. It is certainly possible  that younger online students could benefit from practices (such as embedding feedback, for example) that did not have a positive impact for college students and older learners. Without new random assignment or controlled quasi-experimental studies of the effects of online learning options for K–12 students, policy-makers will lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these emerging alternatives to face-to-face instruction.

online learning


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