Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Evidence on Online Education

Clive Shepherd tweeted a link to this research report: The Evidence on Online Education

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all.

The US Department of Education noted that this new meta-analysis differs from previous such studies, which generally found that online education and face-to-face instruction were similarly effective on issues of learning, but didn't give an edge to online learning that may now exist.

While the new study provides a strong endorsement of online learning, it also notes findings about the relative success (or lack thereof) of various teaching techniques used in online courses. The use of video or online quizzes -- frequently encouraged for online education -- "does not appear to enhance learning," the report says.

That is something to think about - I wonder what the quality of these video and quizzes were like?

Using technology to give students "control of their interactions" has a positive effect on student learning, however. "Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals," the report says.

Notably, the report attributes much of the success in learning online (blended or entirely) not to technology but to time. "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," the report says.

That's an interesting statement - taking the time to learn is a critical factor, which is a clearly central to genuine self reflection and ensuring understanding. Having control over that time is crucial too. Many classroom situations are not conducive to this at all. So your learning environment is critical. Actual learning time in these situations may be minimal compared to the more effective time spent learning in a more concentrated, but spaced fashion (or virtually collaborating) online. This supports my own cry for less learning, more often.

Accountability and orientation

Here's a great comment on this report from "SL" who appears to be at the front line in offering students online learning opportunities and tells it like it is - give the right motivational support and guidance on online learning tools and students will respond positively:

Yes, I may have to spend a little extra time at the beginning of the term making sure my students understand how to navigate the LMS and point them to the online course resources, activities and communications tools, but they don't get the option of NOT learning how to use them, even in my F2F classes, which I would term all blended to a great er or lesser degree! In some EVERYTHING for the course is in our LMS and it is taught in a computer classroom.
The results are always the same:

1) An early steep learning curve, with a fair amount of "
I can't" and "You're making us do all the work!" whining.

2) A period of "Well yeah, maybe I can" when a lot of the tech-forward students start helping their tech-phobic classmates (with my encouragement because I am into the subject matter content phase at that point(although I will always help students one on one with tech issues outside of class) which fosters group interaction and interdependence.

3)What I like to call "the quiet time" from about three weeks into the term until near the end, when my blended courses are firing on all cylinders (meaning the students have finally accepted that I am NOT going to do this for them- it is up to THEM, individually and collectively), right through me attending meetings, "lost" class time from snow days, athletics trips (all our teams travel with a laptop), students having to go home for family or health emergencies (including one having to miss the last month of a term for major surgery), etc. My "class" is always in session, 24-7, rain or shine, internet-willing. "All" I have to do during this period is put out tech brush-fires (people suddenly locked out of their account, etc) and serve as guide on the side, spending parts of each class meeting as a "cheerleader", answering questions,doing demonstrations, reviewing 3D models (often in a "game" format), giving new topic overviews,leading (or just listening to) discussions, advising on group projects, and of course my "real job":, assessing learning (A LOT) with regular online quizzes and exams. A fair amount of classtime is "free" for them to work, alone or together, on class assignments and online learning activities. Then all I do is walk around to keep them on task and off Facebook.

4) And lastly, what I term the celebratory "We did it!!!" phase, when the students look up, realize the term is almost over and that they have accomplished a BUTTLOAD of work and learned a great deal and that they did it (mostly) all THEMSELVES. Sometimes they do accuse me of having "tricked them into learning stuff". For that I do not apologize!? ;-) >95% excellent course evaluations ensue, students ask what other courses I teach the same way and sign up for "extra" courses in my discipline, tests of retention in later classes and our program assessments show great retention for my blended students, and the students beg other faculty to use the LMS for course materials, the calendar, etc. and sometimes even show them how to do so. Students come back and report that the class made them a better, more responsible student in other classes, regardless of delivery method.

And no, these are not upper level or grad courses (which actually turn out to be a bit more comfortable taught in a more traditional Socratic style) however in those we still use the LMS for all sorts of course material exchange and communication. Its just a great way to put everything in one place, for faculty and students alike! The courses I teach as most strongly blended are a freshman-level non-majors class and a 200-level service course.

You just have to get past that Phase 1 with a determined and positive "Yes you CAN!" attitude ...

We need more people in education like this. What a difference that would make...


Unknown said...

This article is a great support for a blended learning solution our department is ready to launch for our nurses. The managers are very tied to traditional training, but there's no room in the working schedule for that kind of time commitment. Up to this point, we've also allowed the clinicians to use the crutch of being technophobes. I'm very encouraged by the data and the example given that we are headed in the right direction for the employees and managers, even though they aren't. I also like the distinction of when to use blended and when to allow for FTF - this helps solidify some stray issues in my head. I will share this with my team.

Unknown said...


Now a days online education is the best method for students because of time saving and students are not sticked with only one subjects, they can learn more through online channels.It can help to improved the performance of students.

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Todd Anderson said...

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