Online instruction is better than in-person instruction!

. . . or not.

I remember when the Department of Education’s meta-analysis of studies of in-class room, blended, and online instruction came out in 2009 that this was the general conclusion that was trumpeted.  Since, I wasn’t strongly involved at that point, I didn’t pay much attention.  Now that I am involved (and interested), I’ve gone back and looked at the report.  Which concludes that

When used by itself, online learning appears to be as effective as conventional classroom instruction, but not more so.

Which is good and validates online education, but certainly doesn’t call for the overthrow of the physical classroom.

No, this study is much more interesting for the reasons it finds for the success of online instruction: use of time.  It is not an astonishing conclusion that the more active time students spend on a topic the greater their learning.  But

one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.

And here is the crux of the matter.  It may be that (at least in some fields and some kinds of classes) an online course is better . . . if it is the only option that is open to the school.  However, the DoE report found that blended learning was the best overall.  And this tells us that in-person and online courses each have strengths that can be combined: the immediate feedback loop of in-person instruction and the expansion of time of online instruction.

Given this, what can we learn about online instruction all by its lonesome? Here are a couple interesting points:

Learning outcomes are not impacted at all by

  1. the medium used for conveying information (e.g. text, video, slides).
  2. learning scripts and scaffolds.  But they do increase the number of questions asked.
  3. class size, if best practices are used.

Learning outcomes are impacted positively by

  1. practices that promote self-reflection, self-management, and self-awareness.
  2. prompts that have students examine both sides of an argument, rather than have them defend one position with evidence.
  3. both instructor-led and collaborative instruction.  Independent study has no correlation with positive outcomes.


Comments 1

  1. avatar Krista Eliot wrote:

    Very eye-catching title! Interesting that independent study is not correlated with positive outcomes. So, in developing a blended course it seems like a good goal would be to use online resources to increase collaboration among students. Thanks for sharing some highlights of this study.

    Posted 02 Oct 2011 at 8:08 pm

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