Tuesday, September 08, 2009

US Gov Report on Online Learning - a must read

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

Fascinating report from the US Department of Education. First: top quality advisors, people like Richard Clark and Dexter Fletcher, who know research methodologies. Second: scope, going from 1996 to 2008. Third: rigorous, clearly identifying measurable effects, random assignment, the existence of controls and ignoring teacher perceptions.

Interestingly they lambasted educational research for its lack of rigour, but after filtering out the good stuff, here’s the results:

Online better than face-to-face
“The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving traditional face-to-face instruction.”

Jury out on blended

“Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.

Online and on-task
“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.”

Online is all good
“Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.”

Blended no better than online
Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.”

Junk video & quizzes
“Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.”

Let learners learn
“Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.”

Online good for everyone
“The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.”

Get them doing things
“Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.”

Groups not way forward
“Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.”

An interesting little observation, tucked away in the conclusions is, “one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face”. In other words it’s better at getting learners to continue learning after the event. What more can you ask for?

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Blogger derekgt4 said...

Some extremely useful and interesting information regarding value of online and blended learning which will assist in planning for those organisations exploring contemporary developments in learning methodologies and technologies. Can this report be accessed generally ?

12:38 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Sorry, link is now in post. Report freely available.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Clive Shepherd said...

In what way does “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction" constitute "Jury out on blended"?

1:37 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Clive - in the report tey explain that the variables were all over the place so that true evaluation was not really possible.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Ally McCulloch said...

Hi Donald,

I'm sorry it's taken me a month to find your take on the report.

I came to it after reading a lot of chatter about how this report 'proves' that on-line learning is more effective than face to face when quite clearly it doesn't!

Thanks for your summary.

My concern is that the researchers seem to be comparing contemporary on-line methods with traditional teaching methods. Although I do appreciate that full, rigorous research is thin on the ground and that this meta-analysis was working with the best studies they had available.

My declared interest is that I design and delivery business training workshops and have an strong interest in using web technologies to support and extend the face-to-face environment.

I also blogged about this research but from the angle of how it was being misrepresented by the online learning industry. You can read my post here:

Thanks again for your summary,

11:10 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Ally
I've read your blog post and your warnings about the conclusions are fair. However, I'm not sure that this let's face-to-face learning off the hook.

1. BECTA, having looked at teachers in schools confirmed that 'talking at students' is quantifiably still an over-used and dominant method of teaching.
2. In Higher Education the uninterrupted 50 minute lecture is still the norm.
3. I agree that training is more sophisticated - but it's patchy - look at the nonsense of NLP, flipchart training for affective learning and so on.

Remember that this is an 'Educational' report from the US Department of Education, not a 'Training' report.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Judy Jacob said...

I recently commented on another blog too on the same lines... I think that online means alone can not have the impact as a student teacher f2f interaction.

Maybe the tools of today are not up to it...

11:59 AM  

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