What do you “know” to be true about online classes? The U.S. Department of Education asked the same thing, so they commissioned a meta-analysis of online learning studies to find out. The report, published in 2010, has some surprising findings gleaned from over a thousand empirical studies published between 1996-July 2008. Here’s what we know, according to the research:
- Students in online courses perform modestly better (effect size of +.20 at p<.001) than face-to-face students learning the same material. Blended courses appear to be slightly more effective than purely online, and both delivery methods out-perform face-to-face instruction. The effect size was largest when online instruction was instructor-directed and/or collaborative than when students worked only independently.
- Instructor-directed and/or collaborative approaches were the only variables in online learning practices that had a statistically significant effect on online student learning. Specific elements (e.g.: use of online quizzes instead of homework, use of videos, etc.) did not impact student learning. This study did not evaluate student satisfaction, however.
- When online students do work independently, their learning is enhanced when they have a high degree of control over their interactions with course media and when the content is structured to trigger learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding.