Howard Feintuch 0000-00-00 00:00:00
What is the superior learning medium for college students: online or traditional classroom? It’s an issue that has drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Education. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education report, Evidence Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Practices, “on average, students in onlinelearning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The study, conducted by SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, involved a systematic search of literature from 1996 to 2008 and looked at more than 1,000 empirical studies of online learning. Dr. Robert Murphy, senior research scientist for technology learning at SRI and one of the report’s authors, says it’s the “instructional practices and engaging learning environment for online students” that make the difference. “We concluded from the research that more time is spent on learning in the online environment,” says Murphy. “Many of the systems provide real-time feedback to students and individualized instruction. It also appears that the online-learning environment is more engaging.” Professionals from several leading online universities agree with Murphy’s assessment. “Online learning is a highly interactive, personal experience for students,” says Dr. Kelley Costner, an associate dean in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University. “There is continuous and greater student participation. Students have the ability to have continual dialogue with each other and with their instructors.” At Walden, instructors use discussion boards to foster exploration of classroom topics. Course activities include assigned readings, individual assignments and “student lounges” where students can communicate in real-time with one another. Instructors are also required to respond to any student question within 48 hours. Costner adds that one of the other reasons students learn better in the online environment is they have more time to refl ect on their answers. Online education is paced at the speed of learning rather than at the speed of teaching, sources say. A slower student is not pushed faster than their ability to absorb information. Since online education is amortized over a larger audience, the higher cost of higher quality teaching aids can be justifi ed and not noticeably impact the costs borne by individual students. The better class aids translate into more students learning better, if they would otherwise have been confused by hastily produced materials. Peter Schmidt, associate provost for academic programs at Western Governors University, agrees with Costner. “The online environment pushes students to interact with faculty and with each other in a signifi cant way, not limited by the time constraints of a classroom setting. They have tremendous access to instructors at all hours. They can also engage their fellow students in discussions about assertions they might have or a concept that is diffi cult for them to grasp.” It’s not just about having access, adds Schmidt, but as Costner says, it’s about having someone respond quickly. Instructors at Western Governors are required to respond to student questions within 24 hours. “It’s a continual communication process, student-to-student and student-to-instructor, and communication leads to a better understanding of ideas,” says Schmidt. Judy Kristan, dean of academic affairs for DeVry University, says interfacing among students and faculty occurs as much as seven days a week and instructors must answer student questions within 24 hours. This can lead to a student learning better, she says. Kristan also sees another benefi t to the online learning environment: “Many students are shy about interacting within a live situation. With online they are somewhat anonymous. They may feel freer to communicate.”
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