Online-alone isn’t as good as online plus face-to-face

September 6, 2011 at 10:56 am 8 comments

I found the article below in this summer’s Harvard Education Letter, then had to hunt to find the reference US Department of Education report.  It’s a meta-analysis that came out in October 2010.  They do find that online plus face-to-face seems to be the best combination for student learning:  The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes…was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. The Harvard piece is pointing out that that’s changing the online schools’ practice.  In times of rising higher-education costs, that probably should be changing brick-and-mortar institutions’ practice, too.

Fast forward to 2011. Connections Academy operates in more than 20 states and serves more than 30,000 students. And it’s not alone. In just one decade, virtual learning has exploded, with two massive statewide full-time virtual schools in Florida and North Carolina, and more on the way.

But just as online learning is taking off, new research is finding that it may not be the most effective way to teach children, and virtual companies have begun to see that a purely virtual approach has its limits.

A key report put out by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2010 demonstrated that a blend of face-to-face instruction and online learning produced the greatest academic gains. Now, not only are traditional schools looking for more online options, but virtual schools in turn are adding bits of brick and mortar to their offerings.

via Harvard Education Letter.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

You can now program the Finch robot from JES UK CS graduates are more unemployed than average 4 years out, and fewer go into education

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  September 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

    These days — when most “online” is just PPT slides — isn’t this a weaker version of saying that *books* + face to face work better for most students than just books alone?

    In any case, one of the pioneers of the online version of this was Dick McCray at U of Colorado in his UG Astrophysics course — and here, his online was not PPT, but actually well structured writing plus lieve simulations (written by grad students in Java). He wanted to use the class periods for discussions and other human interactions rather than for lecture.

    (As you know) This has been carried on and expanded to some extent by Carl Weiman at CU in recent years.

    I worked with both these guys on a National Academies’ Science Board, and tried to get them interested in having the students do more of the making of the simulations themselves (and did quite a few of their simulations in Etoys to show them how this could be done).

    Didn’t quite get enough interest (though Dick was more interested than Carl). One hangup was that Etoys was for 5th graders and (like Scratch) lacks a few things really needed by college students ….



  • 2. Thad Crews  |  September 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Alan, you make an excellent point that some online classes are designed/taught very poorly, while others are designed/taught very richly.

    The same is true, of course, with face-to-face classes, with the richly designed classes often focusing on active learning activities for students.

    It is very exciting to consider the possiblies for hybrid classes that combine the best practices for online classes with the best practices for face-to-face classes.

    • 3. bob therriault  |  September 7, 2011 at 11:55 am

      The Masters program in Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University is a two year blended program with 2 weeks on campus and 50 weeks online. The first two weeks allowed relationships to be developed that would form a foundation for the online experience. I just mention this to show that there are many ways to ‘blend’ the experience of online learning.

  • 4. Casting Out Nines - The Chronicle of Higher Education  |  September 7, 2011 at 8:12 am

    […] at Mark Guzdial’s Computing Education Blog, a note on a Harvard Education Letter report (PDF) on the effectiveness of face-to-face versus […]

  • […] and figure out ways to improve it.  Great! As way to increase graduation rates?  Really?  Retention rates tend to drop online.  While we don’t know how to interpret the low success rates in the Stanford classes, […]

  • […] the flaws of the 2009 US Department of Education meta-study on distance education programs.  I had critiqued the meta-study earlier for ignoring issues of drop-out rates.  Turns out that the definition of a distance education […]


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