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August 16 / 2013

Study Suggests Online Education Surpasses the Classroom

A study conducted by the Department of Education as highlighted in The New York Times has concluded that students participating in online education on average actually perform better than those receiving education in the classroom.

 This report examined online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Most of the research was conducted in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military. The analysis showed 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. “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,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

Although this does not mean that we will be saying goodbye to the traditional classroom, it does indicate that, as more and more studies authenticate its value, online education will continue to expand quickly and sharply over the next few years. This is because the main advantage provided by online education, according to experts, is the ability to access quality education through a program that is tailored to the preferences of individuals. This enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful. “We are at an inflection point in online education,” said Philip R. Regier, the dean of ’s Online and Extended Campus program.

Mr. Regier sees things evolving fairly rapidly, accelerated by the increasing use of social networking technology. More and more, students will help and teach each other, he said. For example, it will be assumed that college students know the basics of calculus, and the classroom time will focus on applying the math to real-world problems — perhaps in exploring the physics of climate change or modeling trends in stock prices, he said.

“The technology will be used to create learning communities among students in new ways,” Mr. Regier said. “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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