Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom

New York Times / August 19, 2009, 1:08 pm /
Updated: 1:29 pm / Steve Lohr

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

A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion:

“On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.

That is a modest but statistically meaningful difference.

“The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

This hardly means that we’ll be saying good-bye to classrooms. But the report does suggest that online education could be set to expand sharply over the next few years, as evidence mounts of its value.

Until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses. That has really changed with arrival of Web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools. The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.


“We are at an inflection point in online education,” said Philip R. Regier, the dean
of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program. Mr. Regier sees things evolving fairly rapidly, accelerated by the increasing use of social networking technology. More and more, students will help and teach each other, he said. [snip]

“The technology will be used to create learning communities among students in new ways,” Mr. Regier said. “People are correct when they say online education will take things out the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”



Full Text Available At


News Coverage

Meta-Analysis: Is Blended Learning Most Effective?



Maitri said...

Wonder if it has a lot to do with personal motivation when online.

Anonymous said...

Well, the title of this entry is a bit misleading. If you read the study, the findings weren't exactly that "online ed beat the classroom." A more precisely-stated finding from the study was that blended learning (traditional classroom learning blended with modern, electronic tools often used in distance environments) showed better results than straight face-to-face teaching.

This isn't surprising, as good educators have always found ways to exploit all the tools available to them in their quest to get the most out of their students, and to help their students get the most out of their class.

Referencegirl said...

I did my masters mostly online. I enjoyed the ability to be able to do my school work at what ever time was best for me. I loved the fact that I was not wasting time on a commute or having to adjust my work schedule to fit in class time. I also think that it gave more of chance to be heard to shy folks and forced slackers to participate since active participation in message boards was required.

JuliaGSilveira said...

A mim, os resultados desse estudo não causam tanta surpresa. Alunos online, na maioria das vezes, recebem um tratamento mais "personalizado", em relação aos que frequentam salas coletivas, durante atividades de ensino realizadas na modalidade denominada face-a-face ou presencial. Certamente, se os alunos participantes de cursos online se dedicam mais aos estudos que lhe são propostos, em ambientes mais favoráveis em termos de possibilidades de concentração e dedicação exclusiva àquelas atividades, sem perturbações de várias ordens que ocorrem, a cada momento ou eventualmente, em salas de aula presenciais,a tendência é que esses alunos tenham melhor performance que os outros frequentadores de salas de aula tradicionais...Outra variável que pode estar interferindo nessa questão talvez esteja relacionada ao planejamento real e cuidadoso que geralmente ocorre em modalidades de ensino à distância. O mesmo procedimento não podemos garantir, ou testemunhar em relação ao ensino ocorrido em ambientes tradicionais. Será que na instituição, onde a pesquisa foi realizada, há planejamento efetivo ou impera a improvisação das aulas que são dadas rotineiramente em seus ambientes tradicionais de ensino?

Chris Simpson said...

Yeah, I think that if you really want to understand what the study is getting at you should read the whole thing. It's title is kind of misleading and the conclusion you find that it draws is a bit sensationalist. All in all though, a very good read. Thanks, I wouldn't have found it without you!