Those who criticize online education typically claim that it is inferior to traditional in-class instruction, but a new report from strategic consulting and research non-profit Ithaka S+R may prove them wrong. According to the report, students in online courses perform just as well, if not better, than students in traditional courses.
The report, which is titled, “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” monitored 605 students taking the same introductory statistics course at six public universities, including the University of Albany-SUNY, Towson University, and CUNY-Baruch College. The students were split into two groups, with one group taking the course in a traditional classroom and the other taking the course in an online format, complemented by an hour of in-class instruction per week.
Based on final exam scores and overall course pass rates, students who took the hybrid class performed better than students who took the traditional class. However, the difference in performance was not statistically significant, according to authors of the report.
The authors also noted that although they were able to randomize students, they could not control for differences in teacher quality – and teacher quality plays a major role in the success of online courses. Whether teaching an online or traditional class, the most successful teachers are those who engage students in the material and show them that they truly care about their learning experience. Studies have shown that students learn more when they take part in active discussions versus when they listen to traditional lectures. Online learning has the potential to be just as effective as traditional learning – the quality and style of teaching are what really make a difference.
Making the Case for Online Education
The results of this report show that learning outcomes were comparable for students in hybrid courses and students in traditional, face-to-face courses. Perhaps this alone is a good enough reason to implement more courses with an online learning component and train teachers to lead online learning communities. However, some teachers are frightened by the growth of online learning because they think that technology will eventually make their profession obsolete. But chances are, there will always be a need for high quality teachers to lead online courses, provide feedback, and keep students engaged.
Online classes provide students with more learning opportunities while lowering costs and enhancing productivity. And since many universities are currently facing budget cuts, online learning might be the right solution to bring costs down without affecting educational quality.