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Online Learning Passes the Test

By Paul O’Reilly

A new study conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education appears to confirm what many educators and academics have been saying for some time – online learning courses have improved to the point where they now offer a workable alternative to more traditional classroom-based education.

In fact, the conclusions of the 93-page study go one step further and cite evidence that students in online learning conditions perform better, on average, than those receiving face-to-face instruction. As the study’s lead author, Barbara Means, states: “The Study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.”

Until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old correspondence courses. That has all changed with the arrival of web-based video, instant messaging, and collaboration tools. Sites like K12, Cosmeo and Education.com offer a full range of interactive programs, as well as tools to help parents or care-givers build an appropriate curriculum.

Online social networking is starting to play a role as well, enabling group learning and other community activities that are so valuable in the tradition learning environment.

The Department of Education study confirmed that online learning is one of the fastest growing trends in educational uses of technology. Researchers have estimated that more than one million K-12 students enrolled in a technology-based distance learning course in school year 2007-08. And it’s not just kids from rural areas or military families that are participating. The K12 web site targets struggling students in need of extra tuition, as well as “advanced and enrichable learners”.

The report hardly means that educators are about to abandon the classroom anytime soon. But it does suggest that online education could expand sharply over the next few years as evidence of its value mounts. In fact, the ideal teaching environment might include a yet-to-be-determined mix of both online and face-to-face education. In another conclusion, the report pointed out that instruction combining both online and face-to-face elements had an advantage over both forms of tuition on a stand-alone basis.


Comment by Maxwell, posted 9/13/2011, 10:28 AM:

I honestly wouldn't be surprised if more traditional education moved online. The classrooms can be bigger. Supervision falls on the parents. Wages can be smaller with the perk of working at home. This could a be a true solution to a dwindling education budget. I however like to know I'm getting what I'm paying for with no surprises. I'd sign up for an <a href="http://www.parkcityindependent.com/"> online accredited high school </a> like Park City or K 12 any day.
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