Reading the report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education. Revised September 2010.
This is a systematic review of the literature (the principle databases were ERIC, PsycINFO, PubMed, ABI/INFORM, UMI ProQuest Digital Dissertations but manual techniques were also used) 1996 - July 2008 of studies looking for experimental or quasi-experimental studies evaluating face to face and online learning with objective measures of learning. 1132 abstracts screened, 176 studies selected of which 99 used for analysis and 77 used for narrative synthesis.
The authors concluded:
- "Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students have been published." Many of the studies included in this report were from higher education such as medical training. So, even more interest from a medical education perspective.
- Face to Face plus online learning is better than online learning alone which is better than Face to Face alone. The authors warn against over-interpretation of this finding since the differences may be due to factors other than the media per se. These factors could include content, pedagogy and learning time.
- Instructor-directed learning and collaborative learning (peer to peer) were effective but individual learning was not.
- "Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly." 13 different learning practices had been identified as potential sources of variation but none were found to be.
- "The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types." Undergraduates, graduates and professionals all seem to benefit from online learning.
- Blended and purely online learning within a single study have similar effects.
- Video and quizzes don't seem to have an influence on the amount that is learnt online.
- Learner control and reflection enhances learning.
- Guiding groups of online learners tends to influence the way the interact but not the amount they learn. Compare this with the beneficial effect of guiding individuals online.
I wonder if the conclusions here should be that online learning allows for more opportunities and time for learning, good teaching works regardless of the media used ("Effective teaching transcends course format") and focussing on the individual learner, their needs and encouraging their reflection, is more important than fancy online tools.