Friday, July 17, 2009

Summary of research about e-learning

The US Department of Education recently analyzed a series of research on the use of online learning. It was geared specifically for K12 education but contains interesting implications for adult use of e-learning as well.

The questions they set out to answer:
1. How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face instruction?
2. Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction enhance learning?
3. What practices are associated with more effective online learning?
4. What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?

Some of the key findings:
  • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
  • Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.
  • Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.
    • Of those variables, (a) the use of a blended rather than a purely online approach and (b) the expansion of time on task for online learners were the only statistically significant influences on effectiveness.
  • Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
  • Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.
  • Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.
  • Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.
"Despite what appears to be strong support for online 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 online 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."