Can Online Learning Substitute The Traditional Method of Learning?

Online learning is gaining more and more importance at all levels of education in the US and worldwide. But we are not sure about its learning outcomes. Is it as good as classroom teaching? Can it substitute the traditional method of learning?

One recent study, Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities by ITHAKA has tried to assess the impact of online learning at the college level across the US.

Using a randomized trial format, they measured the effect on learning outcomes of a prototypical interactive learning online (ILO) course.

In the fall of 2011, 605 students were chosen from six public universities. They were randomly assigned to take a statistics class in a hybrid format or a traditional format. Those who were put through the hybrid format, learned their tasks through computer-guided” instruction accompanied by one hour of face-to-face instruction per week. While in the traditional format, students got 3-4 hours of face-to-face instruction per week.

The study found that learning outcomes are essentially the same for hybrid and traditional learners. Findings were identical across the race, gender, age. Enrollment status and family background too made a little difference to the result.


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One of the biggest advantages that hybrid education has over the traditional learning is its cost. Through “speculative cost simulations”, the study found that large public universities could save costs without compromising on the quality of education, if they embraced hybrid approach to learning.

However, there exist some challenges for hybrid education. One challenge is to make it easy for faculty members to customize, and more engaging for students. Further, “Canned” approaches to hybrid learning could depersonalize the learning process and reduce its richness.

Another concern with the hybrid approach is that it favors “passive learning. This mode of education does not involve asking questions or formulating arguments in front of other people. Thus, it is feared that online learning could further push students to virtual world, where they already spend great deal of time. If students choose this mode of learning, fortunately or otherwise, they will have one more reason to avoid face-to-face contact and prefer virtual interaction.

These concerns notwithstanding, online education is here to stay. And who knows, it may permanently alter how higher education functions and what it might cost.

Adapted from “Study Shows Interactive Online Learning Is Effective”, Socrato.

Read the complete article here.

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