Providing further evidence of the tremendous opportunity to use technology to improve teaching and learning, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of controlled studies comparing online and face-to-face instruction.
"This report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Duncan suggests that school officials should use the short-term federal funding to make immediate upgrades to technology to enhance classroom instruction and to improve the tracking of student data to avoid being caught short when stimulus money runs out.
"Technology presents a huge opportunity that can be leveraged in rural communities and inner-city urban settings, particularly in subjects where there is a shortage of highly qualified teachers. At the same time, good teachers can utilize new technology to accelerate learning and provide extended learning opportunities for students."
To compare – on average, students who took the majority of their instruction online performed considerably better than those who took the same instruction via face-to-face.
However, those who took "blended" courses – which combines elements of both online an face-to-face instruction – did best of all. Which could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrolment, writes Scott Jaschik at insidehighered.com.
The report attributes time and not technology to much of the success in learning online.
"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," the report says.
Caution is required when generalizing the study's findings because few rigorous research studies have been published on the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students. And the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings, such as in medical, career, military training, and higher education.
"Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction," said Marshall "Mike" Smith, a Senior Counselor to the secretary.
"The studies of more recent online instruction included in this meta-analysis found that, on average, online learning, at the post-secondary level, is not just as good as but more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction."
The study was conducted by the Center for Technology and Learning, SRI International under contract to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Policy and Program Studies Service, which commissioned the study.
The full report can be found here.