Distance Education | Research

Online Learning Outcomes Equivalent to Traditional Methods, Study Finds

Interactive learning online (ILO) produces essentially the same outcomes as traditional face-to-face education at the university level, according to a recent report from Ithaka S+R. The report, "Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Tests," suggested that educational institutions looking to reduce costs in the face of shrinking budgets can confidently turn to online education as a means of saving money without diminishing educational outcomes.

The report identified several problems that necessitated the study: stagnant education levels in the United States, achievement gaps related to race and socioeconomic status, and diminishing resources in the public education sector. The researchers set out to determine whether online education could serve to alleviate those problems.

The study involved 605 students at six public universities in northeastern United States during the fall term of 2011. The students all completed the same introductory level statistics course. They represented a diverse range of backgrounds, and they were evenly distributed between a control group, who took the course in a traditional classroom format, and a treatment group, who complete the course through a hybrid method, which involved the interactive online learning component along with one hour of classroom instruction each week.

The researchers asked the students to complete a number of tests and questionnaires before beginning the course and again after completing it, and they analyzed and compared the results between the two groups of students. The results revealed no statistical difference in educational outcomes between the two groups of students. In fact, the students in the hybrid course performed slightly better, but not enough to be statistically significant.

Because the study was conducted at four-year universities only, the researchers "strongly caution" readers against assuming that the findings apply to other types of educational institutions, such as community colleges.

Ithaka S+R is a strategic consulting and research service provided by ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing the use of technology in academic research and instruction.

The full report is available on the Ithaka S+R site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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