Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Online Education Report - Some Key Findings by Ed.gov

The US Department of Education recently released Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, the title is dry but the findings are quite surprising.

The report is based on a very thorough literature review of online learning studies from 1996 to July 2008. One of the key findings states the following:
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...
What a finding, even though many of us actively push the integration of information and digital technologies into the learning process, this must still come as a surprise. The study also highlights the fact that when teaching / instruction combines online and face-to-face elements (blended learning) the advantages to the students are even higher.

Another finding that may surprise many of us, or maybe not if you've used these tools before, is that media elements such as video or online quizzes (common online learning practices) do not appear to influence or enhance learning in online classes. In fact, the study states that the "practice of providing online quizzes does not seem to be more effective than other tactics such as assigning homework".

But on the other hand, the report states that "giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection" can enhance online learning. This is exactly where we want to go when we talk about the integration of Web 2.0 technologies with classroom activities. Give the student / learner the ability to participate in building their learning experience and it becomes a much more successful endeavour as opposed to handing them some packaged item online. Video instruction does not work unless they participate in the creation of the package, and this applies to so many other well-intentioned but misguided attempts to build an online learning environment.

It's not the medium, the "online", that matters, it's the social component. And this shouldn't surprise us, just look at the sheer explosion of social activity and learning on social networks and media sites. We have to allow students to participate in the teaching and learning process.

Welcome to classroom 2.0.