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The Effectiveness of Online and Blended Learning: A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature


by Barbara Means, Yukie Toyama, Robert F. Murphy & Marianne Baki — 2013

Background/Context: Earlier research on various forms of distance learning concluded that these technologies do not differ significantly from regular classroom instruction in terms of learning outcomes. Now that web-based learning has emerged as a major trend in both K–12 and higher education, the relative efficacy of online and face-to-face instruction needs to be revisited. The increased capabilities of web-based applications and collaboration technologies and the rise of blended learning models combining web-based and face-to-face classroom instruction have raised expectations for the effectiveness of online learning.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This meta-analysis was designed to produce a statistical synthesis of studies contrasting learning outcomes for either fully online or blended learning conditions with those of face-to-face classroom instruction.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The types of learners in the meta-analysis studies were about evenly split between students in college or earlier years of education and learners in graduate programs or professional training. The average learner age in a study ranged from 13 to 44.

Intervention/Program/Practice: The meta-analysis was conducted on 50 effects found in 45 studies contrasting a fully or partially online condition with a fully face-to-face instructional condition. Length of instruction varied across studies and exceeded one month in the majority of them.

Research Design: The meta-analysis corpus consisted of (1) experimental studies using random assignment and (2) quasi-experiments with statistical control for preexisting group differences. An effect size was calculated or estimated for each contrast, and average effect sizes were computed for fully online learning and for blended learning. A coding scheme was applied to classify each study in terms of a set of conditions, practices, and methodological variables.

Findings/Results: The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The advantage over face-to-face classes was significant in those studies contrasting blended learning with traditional face-to-face instruction but not in those studies contrasting purely online with face-to-face conditions.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Studies using blended learning also tended to involve additional learning time, instructional resources, and course elements that encourage interactions among learners. This confounding leaves open the possibility that one or all of these other practice variables contributed to the particularly positive outcomes for blended learning. Further research and development on different blended learning models is warranted. Experimental research testing design principles for blending online and face-to-face instruction for different kinds of learners is needed.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 3, 2013, p. 1-47
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16882, Date Accessed: 6/27/2017 11:42:54 AM

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About the Author
  • Barbara Means
    SRI International
    BARBARA MEANS directs the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. Her research focuses on the interplay between technology, education systems, and student learning. Currently, she is directing the evaluation of 48 Next Generation Learning Challenges grants that are using a range of technology-based approaches designed to improve students’ learning experiences, and college readiness and likelihood of completion.
  • Yukie Toyama
    SRI International
    E-mail Author
    YUKIE TOYAMA is an education researcher at SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning and a doctoral student in quantitative methods and evaluation at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education. Her research interests include educational measurement and evaluation designs. Her recent work includes evaluation and research on innovative teaching and learning practices supported by technology both in the United States and abroad.
  • Robert Murphy
    SRI International
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT MURPHY is a senior research social scientist at SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning. His research focuses on design and implementation of large-scale experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of widely adopted educational programs and technologies. Currently he is coleading a quasi-experimental study of virtual schooling in high school and leading two other studies on the use of blended learning models in K–12 school settings.
  • Marianne Baki
    SRI International
    E-mail Author
    MARIANNE BAKIA is a senior social science researcher at SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning. She leads large-scale research and evaluation projects related to the use of educational technologies in public schools. Her research interests include the economic analysis of educational technologies and the support of at-risk students in online learning. Her recent work examines variations in student outcomes in online courses.
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