I spend a lot of mental energy wondering. I wonder if I did this … I wonder why they did that … I wonder if others wonder. I often find myself wondering what helps people learn – including myself. For example, I’m not very mechanically minded. I have spent a lot of sleepless Christmas Eves trying to assemble that awesome present that looked fantastic in the store. I often wonder if there is a better way for me to learn.
Could I be more effective if I attended a class on Some Assembly Required or perhaps watched a YouTube video of Super Handyman? Maybe I should pick up a copy of Assembly for Dummies on my next trip to the hardware store.
Seems I am not alone.
One of the first studies asking the questions I asked above was conducted in the 1940’s by the US Army who had a bunch of guys who needed to learn basic calibration procedures in a short time.
They wondered if it would improve the process if they used a variety of ways to teach. They tried three different methods – the traditional classroom, a book and a film. After the trainings, they evaluated each group and found no significant difference in outcomes between them.
Sixty-four years later.
Years later the introduction of the personal computer and the World Wide Web gave rise to an explosion of online education. Back in the 1990’s when I began developing online courses I wondered if online learning could be as effective as the familiar traditional classroom. Others wondered the same thing. In 2004 a meta-analysis report from Bernard and colleagues accumulated many research studies where they compared learning in face-to-face classes to online courses.
The majority of differences were quite small – meaning that just as in the Army research – learning was equally effective from face-to-face and online versions. With the considerable evolution in technology since 2004 – like the smartphones and cloud-based technologies – I wonder if this is still true.
The US Department of Education wondered the same thing.
In 2010 the US Department of Education did another meta-analysis. This report summarizes experimental comparisons among purely face-to-face, purely online, and the new kid on the block – blended instruction. Just like in 2004, this study concluded online learning was as effective as conventional classroom instruction and neither significantly outperformed the other.
However, this time they found blended instruction to be significantly more effective than both online and face-to-face.
Blended? I wonder why.
What is it about blended instruction making it more effective? I wonder if it’s simply because blended learning allows students to do passive activities like listening asynchronously at home and use face-to-face time for reinforcing interactions.
Maybe it’s because blended learning caters to different learning styles, like visual or kinesthetic. Or could it be because it allows delivery of content through a variety of mediums? I really wonder if it might be because blended gives the faculty time to be more creative making learning more interactive and fun. I wonder if the truth might be that all of these factors contribute to making blended learning one of the most effective ways for students to learn.
So much to wonder about.
Bernard, et al (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research 74, 379-439.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online Learning: A Meta-analysis and review of online learning studies, Washington, D.C., 2010. https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
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