E-learning, face to face learning or both?

In May 2009 the U.S. Department of education released a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies.
From 1996 through July 2008 more than thousand empirical studies were identified online.
Screening took place, using the following criteria:

* constrasting online learning with face to face learning
* measuring student learning outcomes
* using a rigourous research design
* providing enough information to calculate an effect size.

The study covered primary education, secondary and higher education.
Some general conclusions of the report:

* students in online learning conditions perform better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
* the positive effects are even higher in a blended learning situation
* however: research suggests that the positive findings should not be attributed to the media, per se. In many studies there was more learning time, different instructional elements or another educational philosophy.
* unexpected was the finding that there are just a very small number of studies (just five!), meeting the criteria, for the K-12 area.
* elements such as online quizzes and video do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes. It looks as if having more media in an online application does not enhance learning.
* tools that help students to reflect on their learning are effective in improving the outcomes

For many people the outcome that the amount of media are not an important factor will be surprising. Research from Mayer and others showed different results.

Many more details in the report are revealing and interesting. As the focus was directed towards K-12, the results however are disappointing. Much more research evidence is needed to see wether the claims and expectances from so many users are really showing an effect size.

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