U.S. Department of Education Does Their Homework

Recently I’ve been doing some reading about the evolution of online learning.  I stumbled upon a study conducted by U.S. Department of Education called Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.  It immediately sparked my interest as it seemed to be just the verification I’ve been looking for to confirm a set of facts that many educators have believed to be true for over a decade. The report is full of concrete findings despite some critics reaching for arbitrary arguments based on limited samplings, which is completely unfounded.  The report stands on it’s own and includes some unique findings.  In particular students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.  Noting in addition that learners who took blended courses performed the best.

In reading the report, one of the most interesting points I found was online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.  Learning in 2009, is about creating one’s own environment to explore and glean from.  Providing students with access to options and collaborative activities sets the stage for personal path learning.  Personal path learning bring to light an unrestricted environment where one can expand their mind to include unlimited information and knowledge.  Further proof that traditional text book teaching without integrated technology and veteran instructional design techniques is less about learning and more about regurgitating facts in a restricted milieu.

Sitting in an old fashioned desk does not prevent a student from 21st century learning however.  It is crucial that face-to-face traditional learning include team assignments to foster independent thinking and an appreciation for diversity.  While online learning work through the challenge of creating a personal experience that involves human interaction and accountability.

No doubt having the report released from the US Department of Education provides credibility and reinforcements to those that have worked hard to create a strong reputation of alternative learning styles and environments.  Nevertheless, the sigh of relief will be short lived as online proponents continue to press forward delighting in innovative technology and discovering new ways to engage learners.