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Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom


Posted on Sep 19, 2012

A 2009 report from SRI International for the Department of Education reached a conclusion that, in light of a prior post, is interesting in that the conclusion is “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” This conclusion predates Dr. Edmundson’s critique of online education and seems to provide ample ground from which Edmundson’s critique can be rejected.

Steve Lohr explores some of the details of the report in an article for the New York Times:

The report covers data taken over a twelve-year period, from 1996 to 2008, and compares student performances in traditional classroom settings and online settings by drawing on 99 studies making quantitative comparisons between the two settings. The report found that “on average, students doing some or all course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.”

Barbara Means, the study’s lead author, explained the significance of the study, saying that “online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.” Up until recently, online learning has been looked at as an option for those individuals who do not seem to have other options for pursuing an education. Now, though, it is clear that online education is more than a substitute–it is a potential competitor in the “education market,” and seems likely to push education in a positive direction.

Mr. Philip R. Regier, dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program, “see things evolving fairly rapidly, accelerated by the increasing use of social networking technology.” Instead of spending class time on explaining basic concepts, students might be expected to have learned the basics from an online component of a course so that class time can be spent exploring more interesting applications of basic concepts.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

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