Study Shows Online Learn Can Be Effective

By: Jenna Savage

Online education has been subject to much scrutiny over the years. Proponents praise it for offering busy students an opportunity to pursue higher education, while critics concern themselves with whether students can actually learn what they need from distance education. Whether or not online education is as good as traditional education remains a source of debate. Recently, the debate has prompted researchers to study online learning, in hopes of determining whether or not it is comparable to traditional teaching methods.

According to U.S. News & World Report, a recent report conducted by nonprofit research firm Ithaka S+R and entitled, “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” describes a study performed during the fall 2011 semester. Researchers examined 605 college students who were enrolled in the same statistics class across six different public universities. Split into two groups, the students either took the course in the classroom, utilizing traditional learning methods, or they took the class in hybrid format, with online instruction combined with a weekly hour of instruction in the physical classroom.

Using tests that were administered both before and after the students completed the class, the researchers were able to determine how much learning had taken place. They found that the students enrolled in the hybrid class did “slightly better” than the traditional group of students, according to U.S. News & World Report. These results suggest that hybrid learning has the potential to be even more effective than traditional teaching methods.

However, researchers admit that while they randomized students according to multiple factors, including race, age, and academic background, they were not able to control for the quality of the teacher. Teacher quality is a pretty big factor when it comes to learning of any kind, but it’s not the only important factor. So is course design, St. Leo University’s assistant director of faculty services at the Center for Online Learning, Diane Johnson, said in the U.S. News & World Report article. She also said that the instructors who give students individualized attention and show that they are not just another body in the classroom – physical or virtual – are the ones who will help students the most.

Nevertheless, this study does indicate that concerns about online learning’s effectiveness may be unfounded. It shows that if online classes are executed properly, they have the potential to help students achieve the same goals as they would in a traditional class. And as many universities are currently facing tightened budgets, online classes may also help them embrace an affordable alternative to more expensive, traditional classes.