SRI International just published a report for the Department of Education entitled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. In other words, SRI International conducted a meta-analysis of empirical (evidence-based) studies of online learning then published its findings. The study's findings can be boiled down to one simple sentence, taken from the study's abstract, "...on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction." (In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. - from wikipedia)
In other words, based on online learning studies between 1996 and 2008, evidence indicates that students learning online outperformed students learning in traditional face-to-face settings. While the study goes on to say, "caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education)," I have to believe that today's digital learners, especially the motivated ones in grades 9-12, can experience similar results in certain content areas.
This study has prompted me to contact a few educators in the field of educational technology, some of whom are associated with the Louisiana Virtual School, to get their take on the study, its findings and its implications for online learning in K-12 and 9-12 settings. When I've collected their feedback, I'll post a follow-up to this post.
Full Abstract from Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies:
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).