2009/07/05

Meta-Analysis: Is Blended Learning Most Effective? -- THE Journal

Meta-Analysis: Is Blended Learning Most Effective?

The vast majority of the research used in the meta-analysis took place among older learners; only five controlled studies (with seven contrasts between online and face to face environments) involved K-12 students. For this reason, ED advised, "caution is required in generalizing the study's findings to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings, such as in medical, career, military training, and higher education."

Marshall Smith, senior counselor to the secretary of education, said, "Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction." Further, he said, "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."

But Web-based instruction may not be in and of itself superior to in person instruction. Rather, according to the study, it's likely a matter of other factors: "Despite what appears to be strong support for online learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium. 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." (Emphasis was not added.)

The report also noted that many of the studies involved in the meta-analysis suffered from a variety of weaknesses, including small sample sizes and potential biases. And, since the majority of studies involved focused on post-secondary students, the mean effect size for K-12 students is not significantly positive, though it is for post-secondary students.

"Another consideration is that various online learning implementation practices may have differing effectiveness for K-12 learners than they do for older students," the report added. "It is certainly possible that younger students could benefit more from a different degree of teacher or computer-based guidance than would college students and older learners. Without new random assignment or controlled quasi-experimental studies of the effects of online learning options for K-12 students, policy-makers will lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these emerging alternatives to face-to-face instruction.

The analysis was conducted by the Center for Technology in Learning. It was commissioned by the Office of Policy and Program Studies Service, a unit of the Department of Education. A complete copy of the report can be found here.

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