Last updated: 30.09.14

Online learning equal to traditional education, says MIT

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."