- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Time spent away from teachers and in front of a computer screen may not be as bad as once thought.

According to an analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education on June 26, instruction combining online and face-to-face instruction is better than instruction simply done online or only face to face.

The analysis, “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning,” was compiled from research literature ranging from 1996 to July 2008 as well as more than 1,000 empirical online learning studies. It was conducted by a private contractor, the Center for Technology and Learning, to help educators answer questions concerning the increased interest in online learning.

“This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement released by the organization.

Mr. Duncan urged teachers and schools to make immediate technological upgrades before the stimulus money runs out.

Blended conditions of online and face-to-face learning also produced larger student achievement because they included additional learning time and instruction that was not given to students in the control group, according to the study.

The study showed an increased interest in hybrid approaches and found that “policy-makers and practitioners want to know about the effectiveness of Internet-based, interactive online learning approaches and need information about the conditions under which online learning is effective.”

“Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction,” said Marshall Smith, a senior counselor to Mr. Duncan, in a statement released by the agency. “The studies of more recent online instruction included in this meta-analysis found that, on average, online learning, at the post-secondary level, is not just as good as, but more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction.”

Researchers asked four questions while conducting the study: How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face instruction? Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction enhance learning? What practices are associated with more effective online learning? What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?

Department of Education officials noted that few studies have been conducted concerning the effect of online learning on students in kindergarten through 12th grade. As a result, they suggest using caution when applying the study to those students because it is based on learning in medical, career and higher education and military training.

“Technology presents a huge opportunity that can be leveraged in rural communities and inner-city urban settings, particularly in subjects where there is a shortage of highly qualified teachers,” Mr. Duncan said in a statement released by the organization. “At the same time, good teachers can utilize new technology to accelerate learning and provide extended learning opportunities for students.”

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