A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature
by Barbara Means, Yukie Toyama, Robert F. Murphy & Marianne Baki — 2013
Background/Context: Earlier research on various forms of distance learning concluded that these technologies do not differ significantly from regular classroom instruction in terms of learning outcomes. Now that web-based learning has emerged as a major trend in both K–12 and higher education, the relative efficacy of online and face-to-face instruction needs to be revisited. The increased capabilities of web-based applications and collaboration technologies and the rise of blended learning models combining web-based and face-to-face classroom instruction have raised expectations for the effectiveness of online learning.
Population/Participants/Subjects: The types of learners in the meta-analysis studies were about evenly split between students in college or earlier years of education and learners in graduate programs or professional training. The average learner age in a study ranged from 13 to 44.
Intervention/Program/Practice: The meta-analysis was conducted on 50 effects found in 45 studies contrasting a fully or partially online condition with a fully face-to-face instructional condition. Length of instruction varied across studies and exceeded one month in the majority of them.
Research Design: The meta-analysis corpus consisted of (1) experimental studies using random assignment and (2) quasi-experiments with statistical control for preexisting group differences. An effect size was calculated or estimated for each contrast, and average effect sizes were computed for fully online learning and for blended learning. A coding scheme was applied to classify each study in terms of a set of conditions, practices, and methodological variables.
Findings/Results: The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The advantage over face-to-face classes was significant in those studies contrasting blended learning with traditional face-to-face instruction but not in those studies contrasting purely online with face-to-face conditions.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Studies using blended learning also tended to involve additional learning time, instructional resources, and course elements that encourage interactions among learners. This confounding leaves open the possibility that one or all of these other practice variables contributed to the particularly positive outcomes for blended learning. Further research and development on different blended learning models is warranted. Experimental research testing design principles for blending online and face-to-face instruction for different kinds of learners is needed.