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Research review: Online versus face-to-face learning outcomes

In a comprehensive investigation of online and traditional face-to-face learning outcomes, the U.S. Department of Education released one of the first major reports to take a close look at the effectiveness of each approach. The analysis revealed that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. While this is certainly good news for online learning, the results are not as clear-cut as they may seem. To help break it down, we’re sharing summaries of three key findings from the study.

1. “Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students have been published.”
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to measure the efficacy of online learning is that so few people are measuring it in the first place! Between 1994 and 2006, there were “no experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing the learning effects of online versus face-to-face instruction for K–12 students that provide sufficient data to compute an effect size,” and there were only five published between 2006 and 2008. Voxy’s strong commitment to research aims to move the needle on this issue and promote the advancement of research into online and blended learning outcomes to continue improving our approach to online learning.

2. “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
While it’s impossible to know for sure, the difference in learning outcomes in this case was likely the result of a greater amount of total time spent studying in the online setting, whereas in traditional face-to-face instruction—such as a classroom—total time spent is limited to the in-person experience.

3. “Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.”
Analysts looked at 13 different types of online learning applications, and found that only two had a significant impact on outcomes: (1) The total time spent studying; and (2) blended learning, or using face-to-face instruction in combination with online learning. This is a crucial finding because it highlights the importance of time on task and blended learning, and shows that smaller differences in the application of online learning may ultimately not play as significant of a role in learning outcomes.

Click here to read the full report from the U.S. Department of Education.