Last updated: 02.06.12

E-learning courses 'are as effective as traditional education'

Using high-quality online learning courses does not negatively impact the academic attainment of higher educational students, a study has shown.Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials was produced by Brown Center on Education Policy fellow Matthew Chingos and his colleagues at Ithaka S+R.It involved randomly assigning people to take an introductory statistics course through either traditional university educational models - which typically involve three or four hours of direct instruction every week - or through a hybrid format, with one hour of face-to-face contact with instructors every seven days and e-learning tools providing machine-guided assistance.Mr Chingos explained that both groups of students did just as well when their abilities were tested through performance on standardised tests in the subject, as well as in terms of final exam results and pass rates."These zero-difference coefficients are precisely estimated," the report declared.Mr Chingos argued the lack of difference between the effectiveness of online training and traditional educational models could be seen as disappointing, but pointed out he and the research team consider it "hugely consequential"."It shows that fears of online learning leading to worse outcomes are unfounded," he pointed out.Colleges and universities will be able to cut their costs of education and improve the efficiency of faculty staff's use of time, the researcher declared.Mr Chingos said higher learning institutions might then be able to combat the trend of "ever-rising tuition prices" and serve a wider range of students."Adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run," the study remarked.Furthermore, virtual learning environments could become more and more sophisticated, which the scientist noted might result in "even better outcomes".He claimed online learning's position in US universities results in "strong opinions" from both sides of the argument, with proponents predicting a revolutionising effect and sceptics saying it is a way for schools to reduce their expenditure, regardless of how it affects students.