How Does Distance Education Compare with Classroom Instruction?
While distance education has a long history, the development of computers and the Internet has provoked a boom in online classes, as students have sought to learn more as well as cut costs, and institutions have worked to extend their reach.
A 2004 survey by in the Review of Education Research, “How Does Distance Education Compare with Classroom Instruction? A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature,” looked at more than 230 studies and found significant variation in the results achieved.
Overall, the quality of the research was found to be limited, and the results too varied to allow any overall conclusions to be drawn: “It is simply incorrect to say that [distance education] is better than, worse than or even equal to classroom instruction.”
Moreover, the analysis raised far more questions than it answered. Some of these include:
- Given their different natures, is replicating traditional classes really the best approach for computer-based methods?
- How do the outcomes for synchronous distance education (students and teachers, though physically separated, working together in real time) compare to those for asynchronous instruction (students and instructors working independently in both time and space)?
- Do the lower costs of distance education justify overlooking the uncertainty in outcomes?
- Has the traditionally high dropout rate for distance-education students declined as methods have improved?
The authors conclude the analysis by recommending that a framework for the design and analysis of distance-education courses be developed. They also suggest that more studies be conducted on distance-education students’ motivations and how they affect efforts made, as well as on understanding the difference in levels of learning (simple knowledge versus higher-order thinking).
Tags: metastudy, technology
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the American Education Research Association study titled "How Does Distance Education Compare with Classroom Instruction? A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "High Cost of Driving Ignites Online Classes Boom."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the American Education Research Association study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.