Research: Online Learning, part 1

In previous posts, I shared a little history about online learning and the ways that online learning is defined.  This post is part 1 of what the research shows about online learning.

Overall, it is important to note that as explained in previous posts that online schools and online courses are not the same.  For example, there are computer assisted online courses and teacher lead online courses.  In computer assisted online courses, students complete certain competencies, pass a computer based multiple choice test and then move onto the next lesson or level.  Examples of these types of online courses are Advanced Academics or Education 2020 or the ALEKS math program.  Teacher lead online courses are courses where there is a content knowledgeable teacher leading students through the online course.  Examples of these are courses taught by the Florida Virtual School or Virtual School, Inc.  And, then, of course, there are online courses that are a combination of the above.

Researchers have compared student achievement in computer based online learning or teacher lead online learning courses with traditional face-to-face learning and have found that there is no significant difference in the achievement levels of students who attend online high school courses as compared with students in traditional high school courses (Russell, 1999; Smith et al., 2004;). Some studies show slight achievement gains for students in online courses as compared to traditional face-to-face courses and other students show a slight decrease in achievement gains for students in online courses as compared to traditional face-to-face courses.

Overall, researchers have found that the nature of student achievement and completion/retention in online courses makes it difficult to develop comparable or treatment groups (Dickson, 2005).  Student achievement is generally measured by achievement on state standardized tests.  Various meta-analysis studies have examined student achievement and computer-assisted instruction and found that there were positive effects (Kulik, 1994; Russell, 1999).  Smith et al. (2004) examined several meta-analysis for both postsecondary and K-12 online learning.  They found that in each case there was no significant difference between learning in face-to-face courses or schools as compared to online courses or schools.  They supported the conclusion arrived at by others that “on average, students seem to perform equally well or better academically in online learning” (Smith et al., 2004, p.18 ).  Shachar and Neumann (2003) included 86 studies comparing distance versus conventional study.  They found that in two-thirds of the cases, students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts.  One of the more recent meta-analysis regarding online learning commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found that on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction (Means et al., 2009).  In all of the above research, studies were included from both postsecondary and K-12 schools, as well as studies that included students who attended online courses either full time and part time.

Tomorrow, part 2 of research about online learning.

Rob’s entire Dissertation can be found here.

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4 Responses to “Research: Online Learning, part 1”


  1. 1 David Lynam May 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Great article! Online educational games really are a great resource. I am a developer for WordStash (http://wordstash.com) which is a flash card based educational tool that used games to aid learning.

  2. 2 louis vuitton outlet June 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Wow, this paragraph Research: Online Learning, part 1 | California Dreamin’ by Rob Darrow is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, so I am going to inform her.


  1. 1 Research: Online learning part 2 « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on May 13, 2011 at 5:54 am
  2. 2 Online learning: counting students « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on May 17, 2011 at 6:03 am

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