A new report released today by the U.S. Department of Education, which analyzed 46 studies comparing online learning to face-to-face education, concluded that "blended learning," or programs that include elements of both face-to-face and online learning, is somewhat more effective than either approach by itself. The study also found that, by itself, online learning was more effective at raising student achievement than face-to-face instruction exclusively.
“This new 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 in a statement. “To avoid being caught short when stimulus money runs out, 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.”
I'm sure online education advocates are thrilled at the conclusions drawn by this report. But while it does put online education, especially in a blended environment, in a favorable light, there are a couple of significant disclaimers.
Researchers found that blended learning environments often included additional learning time and incorporated more instructional elements, which "suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se," said the report. Also, the analysis found very few studies conducted specifically with K-12 schools, therefore "caution is required in generalizing to the K-12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education)."
In fact, the report goes so far as to say, "the most unexpected finding was that an extensive initial search of the published literature from 1996 through 2006 found no experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies that both compared the learning effectiveness of online and face-to-face instruction for K-12 students and provided sufficient data for inclusion in a meta-analysis."
That's a pretty sad statement on the amount of research, or lack thereof, on K-12 online learning. For more about online learning, check out this year's Technology Counts report.