U.S. Department of Education
Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development
Policy and Program Studies Service
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learningoutcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis.
Here are some of the key findings:
- Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. Learningoutcomes for students who engaged in online learning exceeded those of students receiving face-to-face instruction, with an average effect size of +0.24 favoring online conditions.
- Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction. . . . the observed advantage foronline learning in general, and blended learning conditions in particular, is not necessarily rooted in the media used per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learningtime.
- 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.
- Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.
- The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.
- Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes. When a study contrasts blended and purely onlineconditions, student learning is usually comparable across the two conditions.
- Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes. The research does not support the use of some frequently recommended online learning practices. Inclusion of more media in an online application does not appear to enhance learning. The practice of providing online quizzes does not seem to be more effective than other tactics such as assigning homework.
- Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue onlinelearning as individuals.
-Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners. When groups of students are learning togetheronline, support mechanisms such as guiding questions generally influence the way students interact, but not the amount they learn.- Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness ofonline learning for K–12 students have been published. The systematic search of the research literature found just five experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing thelearning effects of online versus face-to-face instruction for K-12 students. As such, caution is required in generalizing to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part basedon studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).
See the article, “The Evidence on Online Education,” by Scott Jaschik in the June 29, 2009 issue of Inside Higher Ed.