A recent report on online education reached an intriguing conclusion: "On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."
The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.
Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but statistically meaningful difference.
"The study's major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction," said Barbara Means, the study's lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.
This hardly means that we'll be saying good-bye to classrooms. But the report does suggest that online education could be set to expand sharply over the next few years, as evidence mounts of its value.