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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Online Learning

Photo: 'On-line learning' from Dreamstime.comA recently produced research document makes encouraging reading- even if a lot of the interesting bits are embedded within masses of statistics and tables. However, although this document is about online learning we can extend its conclusions to the additional functionality that an e-Portfolio can provide. As the document is online and available for all to see I trust that the extracts as listed below make a fair basis for further discussion.

US Department of Education
Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning
May 2009

Extracts from the Executive Summary:
Online learning—for students and for teachers—is one of the fastest growing trends in educational uses of technology. The National Center for Education Statistics (2008) estimated that the number of K-12 public school students enrolling in a technology-based distance education course grew by 65 percent in the two years from 2002-03 to 2004-05. On the basis of a more recent district survey, Picciano and Seaman (2009) estimated that more than a million K–12 students took online courses in school year 2007–08.

These activities were undertaken to address four research questions:

  1. How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face instruction?
  2. Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction enhance learning?
  3. What practices are associated with more effective online learning?
  4. What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?

Worth noting:
When a α < .05 level of significance is used for contrasts, one would expect approximately 1 in 20 contrasts to show a significant difference by chance. For 51 contrasts, then, one would expect 2 or 3 significant differences by chance. The finding of 2 significant contrasts associated with face-to-face instruction is clearly within the range one would expect by chance; the 11contrasts associated with online or hybrid instruction exceeds what one would expect by chance.

Key Findings:
The main finding from the literature review was that:

  • Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students have been published.
  • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
  • Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.
  • Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.
  • The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.
  • Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online and face-to-face conditions varied in terms of curriculum materials and aspects of instructional approach in addition to the medium of instruction.
  • Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.
  • Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes.
  • Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.
  • Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.

Extract from the Conclusions:
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 (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.

Personal Observation:
Although there are some remarkable facilities available to some students in the US, I wonder just how many children in 'average' schools in the US have the same computer ratios as in the UK or more importantly what % of the US population uses 'Home Access' as we are beginning to understand it here in the UK.

I say this because I am not sure how well we can compare 'like-with-like' across different countries. Until the UK can get down to producing similar research for our 'K-12' cohort we will not be able to begin to ascertain the added advantages of e-Portfolios.

There are still many 'loopholes' in the paper that I am still trying to clarify with the American authors. For instance, were their 'online learning courses' freestanding tools with no f2f support? And then, what does f2f mean? Individual 1:1 tuition or one lecturer in front of 200 students? Did the online courses allow collaboration? Did they allow individual investigation or project work? Was the students' work machine-marked or was it assessed by a real person? Why, in some cases did online retention rates drop - was this just bad teaching or was it online technical frustrations?

For me, the document, despite all its academic excellence, raises a number of issues which need to be discussed with those who are aware of the contexts.

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