Means. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Policy and Program Studies Service.
This article, a study for the U.S. Department of Education, examined the state of K-12 online education by examining existing articles which did empirical studies of online and blended learning, comparing and contrasting it to face-to-face (FTF), measuring student outcomes, utilizing rigorous research design. The authors, Means et.al, looked at historical aspects and the evolution in the use of eLearning. They found that the popularity of online stemmed from the flexibility, time-and-place advantages, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to instruct larger groups of students in an efficient manner. In the literature search, 50 independent effects that for meta-analysis were identified. They stated how online learning, as a subset of distance learning, utilizes newer technology in addition to the traditional video and TV based education, which for the most part simply were stand-ins for FTF. Since online education entails many web-based technologies, multimedia, collaboration tools and other new techniques, it was sufficiently different from traditional distance learning. The research questions for the meta-analysis involved effectiveness of online vs. FTF, whether simply supplementing FTF with online enhanced learning, the practices associated with effective online learning, and conditions that influence effectiveness of online learning. The authors did a comprehensive literature search and review on online learning, and performed meta-analysis on the findings. The searches were limited to only online, those that utilized random-assignment or controlled quasi-experimental designs, and focused on studies which objectively measured student learning rather than teacher perceptions of learning or course quality, for example. Many of the studies they found examined the influences of media such as video, on the learning experience and subsequent assessments of learning with the use of technology for such things as asynchronous communication, synchronous technologies, as well as online testing. They referred to how online technologies can be used to expand and support learning communities (Bransford, Brown and Cocking 1999; Riel and Polin 2004; Schwen and Hara 2004; Vrasidas and Glass 2004). They also found that learning was enhanced by online learning because of increased multimedia interactions, leading to better reflective analysis of the content. In addition, they concluded that effectiveness of online learning may be different for K-12 than for adult learners in undergraduate studies. They also considered such conditions as demographics, teacher qualifications, and accountability to government regulations when doing their analyses.
The study, while doing meta-analysis of online vs. FTF instruction, gave some key insights into the state of research into online education such as that there were not many published studies of online learning effectiveness for K–12 students. However, from the available research they found that student performance in online was slightly better than FTF, that success in learning outcomes were 20%higher for online students, but they acknowledged that the two types of education were considerably different in terms of time students spent on tasks. Many of the studies did not try to normalize the study of online learning through drawing equivalents to pedagogical approaches, curricula, and time spent learning. They also found that by comparing purely online with hybrid or blended modalities yielded similar learning outcomes. However, as with FTF, if we want to maximize the value of an online learning experience, there should be active learning components in the course. With the massive amount of research data that the authors of this study were trying to aggregate, it appeared to be difficult for them to come to cohesive conclusions. The articles they looked at were all over the place, but the study does come up with some consensuses of knowledge, but more questions such as whether online can replace FTF, what pedagogies can be transferred into the online learning spaces, and to what degree should the courses be balanced between asynchronous and synchronous activities. Online modalities enable a better way to transmit or broadcast information by enabling any computer to be a portal to the information provided by instructors. The replicability and ability to efficiently deliver content is a key advantage to the design of online learning versus FTF.
This is a great big picture study that can help students of learning science to sift through and curate the studies of online versus FTF, how knowledge can be disseminated, acquired, created, and learned through many empirical examinations of online scenario’s. The study provides a conceptual framework for studying online learning. It gives us ways to build upon the masses of research, albeit mixed with various states of technology inclusion, so that we can anticipate future opportunities to design new learning environments. If we know the historical background, we can then decide how in the future we can implement such things as technology mediated instruction, new types of synchronous methodologies and techniques, and to enhance virtual environments to approach the experience and advantages of FTF learning.