The USDOE (2010) meta analysis was well conducted, as a means of comparing online to blended learning conditions for undergraduate and graduate students. I felt that the authors were rigorous in selecting studies that included control groups, though this limited the analysis to a relatively low number of studies (n=45) for a meta-analysis. As the authors suggest, the meta analysis is less effective for K-12 students, because of the lack of useable studies for this age group. In light of the lack of evidence, we might look at the findings of this study more as possible suggestions rather than conclusive findings. With that being said, there are certainly some valuable suggestions to be found in the report, that I will implement when designing my own courses. The article itself, is a good reminder that we need more research into this topic and that research should be well designed and rigorous if it is to be used for making policy decisions.
I was surprised by many of the findings in this paper, and wonder if these findings would be different for K-12 populations. One of these findings was that “Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction’(USDOE 2010). I expected that there may be no difference found between traditional and online classrooms, but not better performance in an online situation. This finding appears contrary to other research that suggest it is the instructional design, not the mode of instruction that increases learning (Bonk and Reynolds 1997). The paper was unclear on why this difference may have been found. The authors researched specific activities that may enhance online learning environments, but the content and presentation varies between experiments which probably influenced the results. I was also surprised that “the addition of images, graphics, audio, video or some combination’ did not affect learning outcomes in a significant way. The presentation of material using different modes is often suggested to improve processing of information (Ally 2008).
While the effectiveness of the practices studied in this report were inconclusive, I think that this report made several important suggestions for best practices that I would try to incorporate in my own classroom. Overall, it appears that the activities that produced positive results increased student control, interactivity or metacognition. These include increased learner control in media, incorporation of metacognitive activities, individualizing instruction and the inclusion of elaborated questioning.These findings seem to support constructivist theory that the learner should be active rather than passive in the learning process. According to the report, passive media such as videos and static graphics had no significant impact on learning, while learner controlled media did have a positive effect on learning. It is perhaps the interactivity, rather than the media that produced positive results. Though the report found only two studies of the effects of individualizing instruction both found a positive effect (USDOE 2010). Adaptive instruction caters to each student’s needs and encourages greater activity. Not unexpectedly, the results of three studies exploring the effects of including different types of online simulations were also modestly positive. Once again supporting constructivist theory and the role of the active learner. One of the best supported finding in this report found that metacognitive “tools or features prompting students to reflect on their learning’ were effective in improving outcomes and suggests that promoting “self-reflection, self-regulation and self-monitoring leads to more positive online learning outcomes’ (USDOE 2010). Equally as interesting, is the finding that graphic organizers and concept maps, as well as embedded quizzes did not have any positive effects on learning. These techniques are often suggested as ways to improve metacognition in online courses. Many of the online courses I have taken rely heavily on these activities, and I have also used them in my own classes. The findings of this report have caused me to rethink my use of these tools.
The conclusion I reached from reading this article, was that more studies need to be conducted, particularly from the K-12 environment. There is a large push in secondary education to produce online and blended learning environments and while this may offer students an academic advantage, there’s virtually no research to suggest so. With the amount of attention that is being placed on online and blended learning, I am surprised at how little statistically significant evidence there is to recommend it.
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB Canada: Athabasca University.
Bonk, C. J., & Reynolds, T. H. (1997). Learner-centered web instruction for higher-order thinking, teamwork, and apprenticeship. In B.H. Khan’s (Ed.), Web-based instruction (pp. 167—178). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.(USDOE) (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Washington, D.C.