By Margarita Nahapetyan
According to a new study recently released by the U.S. Department of Education, online education has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning.
In addition, the report, titled "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies," states that those who take "blended" courses which combine elements of both, online an in-person education, appear to show the best results. This finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is becoming one of the fastest-growing types of enrollment.
The U.S Department of Education analyzed all kinds of instruction, and came to the conclusion that the number of valid analyzes of elementary and secondary education was too insignificant to have much confidence in the outcomes. However, the study found that the positive results turned out to be consistent as well as statistically significant for all types of higher education, undergraduate and graduate, and within a wide range of academic subjects.
"Online education provides additional opportunities," said Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause. "It gives people greater opportunity for flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrating things in multiple ways such as visualization." Oblinger added that what the study demonstrates, is that colleges need to think broadly about utilizing online education, and not be "artificially limited" to face-to-face instruction.
The Education Department report states that it had analyzed more than 1,000 empirical studies of online education that were published between 1996 and 2008. However, the conclusions the Education Department based only on a results of just 51 of independent studies that met strict criteria. The goal was to compare all the cons and pros of an online teaching experience with those of a face-to-face situation, as well as to examine student learning outcomes, use a "rigorous research design," and provide adequate data in order to calculate the differences.
According to the department, this new meta-analysis is different from previous similar studies, which generally determined that online learning and face-to-face instruction were in the same way effective on issues of learning, but did not demonstrate all the benefits of online education that may now exist.
While the new study indicates that online learning has a strong positive effect, it also mentions about the relative success of a number of teaching techniques that are commonly used in online courses. For example, the report says that the use of video or online quizzes that are frequently encouraged for online education, does not appear to benefit learning. However, utilizing technology to provide students with "control of their interactions," appears to have a positive effect on student learning. Previous studies have shown that manipulations that cause learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online education as individuals, the report says.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested that educators took into consideration the report's findings. "This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide," he said.