Study Indicates Benefits Of Online Education

By Staff
June 29, 2009

A new study released by the U.S. Department of Education last week found that on the average, students perform better taking courses online than through face-to-face instruction, and those who take "blended" courses which combine both elements appear to do best of all.

Inside Higher Ed reports that the findings are significant because many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment. Moreover, the positive results of the study were consistent with all types of higher education--undergraduate and graduate, and within a wide range of academic subjects.

"Online education provides additional opportunities," noted Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause, who was quoted in Inside Higher Ed. "It gives people greater opportunity for flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrating things in multiple ways such as visualization." She said that the study should prompt colleges to think more about utilizing online education.

The new meta-analysis--which looks at existing studies for patterns and conclusions--may very likely further fuel the popularity of online education. U.S. News & World Report noted in April that more than 4 million students enrolled in at least one online course last fall, while in 2003 the number was less than 2 million. Meanwhile, the University of Phoenix reported that enrollment for its online classes increased by 20 percent in the past year.

An important caveat mentioned by the study pointed out that the evidence did not endorse online learning as a medium. Instead, the analysis credited much of the success of online education to a combination of factors, including curriculum, pedagogy, and time spent taking courses. Indeed, the study noted that "online learning is much more conducive to the expansion to learning time than is face-to-face instruction."

"This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement following the study's release. "We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to bring broadband access and online learning to more communities."

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