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Online learning equal to traditional education, says MIT

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Although millions of people across the globe are signed up to some sort of online learning course, sceptics still suggest the quality of education provided by e-learning pales in comparison to that of traditional learning. However, a new report claims that this is far from the truth.

A new study - published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning - from the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could make even the most stubborn naysayer change their minds about online learning.

Researchers have discovered that not only is e-learning effective, it is as valuable as what is being taught in classrooms - no matter how prepared or knowledgeable the students are.

David Pritchard, co-author of the study and MIT's Cecil and Ida Green, professors of physics, told MIT News: "A number of well-known educators have said there isn't going to be much learning in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated."

The research team, comprised of experts from MIT, Harvard and Tsinghua University, conducted a test on students taking a MOOC in introductory mechanics and those taking the class on campus. They noted: “The amount learned is somewhat greater than in the traditional lecture-based course.”

In addition, the results were the same regardless of how prepared the students were, whether the individual started with a low level of knowledge regarding the subject or had previous experience. 

The team added: "That person would nevertheless have made substantial gains in understanding." 

According to the researchers, online learning produces equal, if not better, outcomes compared to those achieved in a traditional classroom. The team suggested than if education establishments wished to improve outcomes then they should provide a hybrid approach, combining the best elements of both.  

Professor Pritchard told MIT News that the study is "just the start of a process of mining the data that can be gained from these online classes."

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