While students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction alone, instruction combining both online and face-to-face elements “had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction,” the report says.
The meta-analysis also found that most of the variations in how different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly–and the effectiveness of online-learning approaches spanned several different content and learner types.
When researchers compared different online-learning practices, they found that elements such as video or online quizzes did not appear to influence the amount that students learned in online classes. But giving learners control of their interaction with media and prompting learner reflection did enhance online-learning outcomes.
Even though the meta-analysis concluded that blended and online learning can help increase student achievement, researchers stopped short of attributing this higher achievement to the medium itself.
The studies analyzed “do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium … [because] in many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum, and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions that produced the observed learning advantages,” the report says.
But online learning is more conducive to increased learning time than face-to-face instruction, the report notes–and this increased learning time is a key factor in student success.
Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, agrees with this analysis. Patrick said the advantage of online or blended learning over face-to-face instruction alone “is the combination of rich student-teacher-peer communication and interactions that are both asynchronous and synchronous, better utilizing the precious resource of time during, and outside, the school day to maximize learning–and personalize it in a way never before possible.”
According to Patrick, the factors that make blended models better than most face-to-face models are the factors that research says also defines good teaching: “increased interactions between students and teachers, increased depth of rigor and exploration into content, customized learning to meet the students exactly where they are in learning the lessons, better use of data to inform instruction, and providing additional student support to help personalize instruction by the teacher.”
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