To remain competitive, expand access to education, and meet the needs of students, institutions of higher education are offering larger numbers of online courses. As online instruction increases, educational institutions, students and society need to make sure that online courses and programs are as effective as traditional classroom courses and educational programs. To address this need, this paper focuses on the question, “Are online courses and programs as effective as those taught in the classroom?” Numerous authors have addressed the question of the effectiveness of online classes (Keegan, D., 1996; Russell, T., 1999; Schulman, A.H. and Sims, R.L., 1999; Harasim, L. 2000; Ryan, R.C. 2000; Rivera, J.C. and Rice, M.L., 2002; Bernard, R.M., et al, 2004; Frantz, P.L. and Wilson, A.H., 2004; Suanpang, P., Petocz, P. and Kalceff, W., 2004; Fjermestad, Hiltz, S. and Zhang, Y. 2005; Weaver-Kaulis, A. and Crutsinger, C., 2006). Most studies center on student satisfaction and/or student learning. The studies have produced mixed results. This paper provides a summary of a number of important studies on the effectiveness of online courses and educational programs. It synthesizes the results from the studies and presents possible reasons for the differences in findings. It concludes with a discussion of future trends and suggestions for areas of further study.
Several studies of effectiveness of online learning appear in the literature. Thomas Russell’s The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, published in 1999 summarized 355 research reports, papers and summaries on the subject of online versus traditional learning. He found no significant difference in grades, satisfaction or effectiveness when “e-learning” was compared to traditional teaching. Other studies have supported Russell’s findings. Taking additional factors into consideration, Navarro & Shoemaker (2000) found little or no difference between online and classroom learning when such issues as race, gender, technological and academic backgrounds, and socioeconomic status were taken into account.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Measurement: Quantitative evaluation of results or outcomes
Platform: A learning management system, such as e-College or Blackboardy
Effectiveness: Having the desired result
Onland/traditional format: Classroom instruction with teacher and students present in the same location
E-pedagogy: The study of teaching via the Internet, or the study of online instruction
E-Learning: Distance learning using a computer platform
Online format: Distance education where student and teacher are not present in the same location