According to a New York Time blog article a recent SRI meta-analysis found that students in online courses tested out at the 59th percentile, compared to students in traditional face-to-face courses – who average at the middle – the 50th percentile. The pdf for the SRI study is at this link.
We have just enrolled out daughter in an online high school, so this is interesting and heartening news. As a teacher, I’m very intrigued about this and have several questions.
1. Were the groups (online versus traditional) statistically similar or self-selected in some way?
2. If self-selected, was this accounted for in the analysis in some way?
3. Are the various online programs compared in the study?
It is certainly possible that over time, the online course makers have hit upon a set of best practices that are better than those of the typical teacher. I recall when Apple started using the SAP system for tracking basically everything about the business. I had naively thought that the SAP programmers just came in and wrote our business practices into code. But that’s not the case. The real value of the software is that it places some very good practices and procedures into a system that the employees must follow. We had to adjust our procedures to work with the software. We were buying a way of doing things that just happened to run on a computer.
Are online courses like SAP in that way? I’ll have to read the study (93 pages) and see how it answers the questions above. And I’ll observe my daughter’s online courses. The school uses the Blackboard software, fairly common for online courses.
Stay tuned. Once I’ve read the study I’ll report back with more detail.