Last updated: 24.05.12

Online learning students 'process information faster'

Students who use online learning can take in information faster than those who only take part in classroom-based sessions, new research has indicated.

A study conducted by non-profit think tank Ithhaka S+R used two versions of a statistics course to compare the effectiveness of the two different forms of learning, reports.

One group of students received only face-to-face teaching, while the other was only allocated an hour with their lecturers and spent the remaining time being taught online.

The latter group were seen to learn faster and Ithaka adviser and chancellor of the University System of Maryland William Kirwan said online learning has the potential to be a "model that can totally change the teaching and learning process while lowering costs".

Ithaka's report is the second it has conducted on the topic of online learning in recent weeks, as earlier this month it published an investigation into the current landscape of online learning at higher education level.

Co-author of the first paper and former president of Tufts University Lawrence Bacow said while the findings of the two papers are not an indication that online learning has superseded traditional forms of education, it is performing well considering it is still "in its infancy".

"Today's students become tomorrow's faculty. They will have much greater comfort using these tools. This is only going to get better over time," he remarked.

President of Suffolk University James McCarthy, who worked on the design and implementation of the new paper, said the challenge for online learning is for it to be a success at a wide variety of institutions, rather than just high-ranking universities and colleges.

"The notion that online courses might work at [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] MIT or Harvard or Stanford or Carnegie Mellon is in a certain sense neither here or there, because those places are going to survive and thrive whatever they do," he explained.

MIT and Harvard have teamed up to provide an online learning product called edX, which will give people worldwide access to learning materials from the two universities. Each institution has pledged $30 million (£18.5 million) for development of the initiative.