Online Instruction Bests In-Class in DOE Report?

onlineclassA report sponsored by the US Department of Education recently found that students who received instruction online performed better than their peers who went to normal classes.

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but statistically meaningful difference.

On its face, the data appears to say that, hell, let’s just throw all those pesky classes we walk so far to onto the Internet. That way we’ll never have to leave our beds!

Not so fast!

Why are online classes better, do you suppose?

The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.

That’s a fair point, but we at OS believe that the true reason people do better on average after taking the online version of a class is not because the class itself is better (Have you ever taken a class on ANGEL?),  but because to take an online class requires you to be more self-motivated. Obviously, those that have the desire to learn will do better than their peers. Just attending class is not an active way to learn, while teaching yourself online is.

Nevertheless, learning will never fully leave the classroom:

“People are correct when they say online education will take things out the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

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About the Author

Eli Glazier

Eli is a junior majoring in International Politics. He enjoys paninis and books.


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