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Study: Students Learning Online Perform Better Than Those in Classrooms

The Department of Education hired SRI International to conduct a study to compare online education with traditional classroom methods. The conclusion of the report is that on average, students in online learning environments perform better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. SRI examined research that was published from 1996 to 2008, all of which compared online instruction to classroom teaching. Although some of the research was conducted in K-12 settings, most of the studies were done in colleges or adult continuing education programs of many different kinds.

Ninety-nine individual reports were researched. Each report offered quantitative comparisons of online versus classroom performance for the same coursework. SRI reported to the Department of education that, on average, students doing some or all of the coursework online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, while the average classroom students scored in the 50th percentile.

Although that seems a modest difference, it is meaningful in the world of statistics. What implications will this difference have on how we structure our schools?

Well, we will hardly be saying goodbye to the classroom. But it is most likely that online education will play a greater role in the education of all students.

Today’s online learning is vastly different than the online instruction that was available even a few years ago. Previous online learning was not much more than electronic versions of stodgy, lifeless correspondence courses. But things have really changed in the world of technology, so that with web-based video, instant messaging and other collaboration tools, learning can take place in an active online social environment.

Some proponents of expanding online education claim that it can provide learning experiences that are more tailored to each individual student than is possible in any classroom. By its very nature online education engages a student more completely than in a classroom. Online studies encompass more “learning by doing” time than is available in many traditional classrooms.

Many people believe we’re at the start of a huge growth in online educational opportunities. The sector to grow the fastest the soonest is predicted to be the continuing education programs. It is predicted that in the next three to five years the number of students signing up for continuing education will triple, and nearly all of that growth will come through online course work.

Next to embrace more online educational opportunities will be the university level. Many universities are now using online learning management systems, but mainly for posting assignments, reading lists, schedules, syllabuses and a few web discussion boards. Because of the tremendous increase in social networking technology, more and more students will help each other learn. For example, in a calculus class, it might be assumed that all students already know the basics of calculus upon entering the class. Then class time can be used to focus on the application of the math concepts to real world situations.

And last to follow the lead will be the K-12 schools. But there is today a growing trend of using online instruction to enhance the classroom education. Much of the online instruction is taking place inside the schools themselves rather than at the student’s home. This is because, of course, not all students have the resources in their families to have a computer for at-home online curriculum enhancement. As long as there is equal opportunity for students to utilize online instruction in their classroom, in a computer lab or in a media center, proponents of online instruction insist that online education has earned its rightful place in every public K-12 school.

Proponents of increased online learning opportunities ask us to think of online learning in a new way. Let go of your image of one person sitting at a computer answering multiple choice questions. Instead, imagine a group of students in an online chat sharing video, audio and slide shows of concepts and discovering new ideas together.

Effective learning occurs in a community, and there’s no difference whether you’re talking about classroom learning or online learning. For the first time we have the technology that we need to make online learning a truly social occurrence.

And expect the technology surrounding social online learning to expand exponentially, as the users of the technology become more adept with its properties. The generation of students using today’s social online learning can envision new applications that none of us could even have imagined a few short years ago.


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