Is On-line Learning Effective?
The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected many aspects of life, not least of which is education. In April, 2020, The World Economic Forum estimated that school closures had affected 1.2 Billion children. While, worldwide, not all children have begun to participate in on-line learning, many have, and much of traditional classroom-based education has been compelled to move to on-line, computer-mediated education.
How effective is on-line learning? The results are mixed. On-line learning depends of course, on accessibility. For those that have access, research indicates that on-line learning can be as effective, and in some cases, a more efficient, mode of instruction than tradition classroom learning, including enhanced retention, speed of learning, and advantages of self-paced vs. other-paced instruction. “For those who do have access to the right technology…Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose. (See “5 Reasons Why Online Learning is More Effective”)
Effectiveness however, may vary by the age of students. Younger students often thrive in a more immersive, face-to-face environment, and benefit from learning a range of social and emotional skills that are often more difficult to convey in a “narrow-cast” learning venue. Classroom structure can itself be an important social-educational factor. The effectiveness of on-line learning also may vary depending on whether instruction is exclusively on-line, or if it is “blended” (i.e., includes both on-line and face-to-face instruction). Some research has shown that blended instruction results in better student outcomes than solely on-line learning. (See “The Effectiveness of Online Learning: Beyond No Significant Difference and Future Horizons,” Tuan Nguyen, Leadership, Policy, and Organization Peabody College, Vanderbilt University)
While there appear to be benefits to on-line learning for some students, Susanna Loeb, writing in a recent issue of Education Week reminds us “Just like in brick-and-mortar classrooms, online courses need a strong curriculum and strong pedagogical practices. Teachers need to understand what students know and what they don’t know, as well as how to help them learn new material. What is different in the online setting is that students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation. The teacher will need to set norms for engagement—such as requiring students to regularly ask questions and respond to their peers—that are different than the norms in the in-person setting.” She further observes that some instruction (i.e. on-line) is better than no instruction, and that “especially (for) students with fewer resources at home, (these students) learn less when they are not in school. Right now, virtual courses are allowing students to access lessons and exercises and interact with teachers in ways that would have been impossible if an epidemic had closed schools even a decade or two earlier. So, we may be skeptical of online learning, but it is also time to embrace and improve it.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how” World Economici Forum, April 2020
“The Effectiveness of Online Learning: Beyond No Significant Difference and Future Horizons,” Tuan Nguyen, Leadership, Policy, and Organization Peabody College, Vanderbilt Universy
“How Effective Is Online Learning? What the Research Does and Doesn’t Tell Us” By Susanna Loeb, Education Week, March 20, 2020