Online learners, according to one study, fare somewhat better than in face-to-face instruction. According to the U.S. Department of Education report titled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: “The (analysis) found that on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
In plain, nonacademic English, online learning is somewhat better. However, the report had a number of “quibbles” and variables, and admitted that there really haven’t been enough studies on high school students to apply the findings to them. But the analysis was pretty consistent when applied to college and adult students.
Major findings were:
♦ When you combine online with face-to-face training – they call that “blending” – you get better outcomes. You have to take into account things like teaching methods and style – educators use the 50-cent term ‘pedagogy’, how much time was involved in the learning process, as well as classroom conditions. In either case, what is more important when blending the learning methods is not whether it is online or face-to-face or both, but the pedagogy. So great teachers will outdo mediocre online training, and vice versa.
♦ When online instruction included communicating with other students or was controlled by the instructor, the learning benefits were greater. It’s the interaction and feedback that makes the difference.
♦ The report did a lot of “meta-analysis” – using the results of other studies to find common conclusions. No matter how the online vs. face-to-face studies were conducted or whatever variables were included, the results were pretty much the same. Online learning seems to be very effective, no matter what the subject areas and what the differences were among the students.
♦ The studies that looked at the combined face-to-face and online approach and contrasted it to just online found that student learning was nearly the same in both, with the tiebreaker going to the combined approach.
♦ Adding videos or online quizzes does not appear to help students learn more in an online class. In fact, the study found, “The practice of providing online quizzes does not seem to be more effective than other tactics, such as assigning homework.”
♦ When learners get control of the way they interact with the online training media, they learn better. There’s something about the moving around in the program, taking control and doing self-checks that seems to imprint the learning better.
♦ The instructor who tries to guide the students as a group in an online class will probably influence how the students interact, but not how much the students learn. The instructor still has to concentrate on the individual student.
The 94-page report has numerous examples where students performed well using online training methods under a variety of study and testing conditions. College undergrads who go the “distance training” route online where they interact with other students and stay in touch with the teacher will be glad to know that their learning experience is as good, and often better, than face-to-face classroom time.