This U.S. Department of Education study conducted systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identifying more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition by:
- Measuring student learning outcomes
- Using a rigorous research design
- Providing adequate information to calculate an effect size.
The findings showed that 50 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
This literature review and meta-analysis have been guided by four research questions:
- How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face
- Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction enhance learning?
- What practices are associated with more effective online learning?
- What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?
The overall finding of the meta-analysis is that classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction.
In addition, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) surveyed the graduates and their employers of distance learning degree programs. The survey concluded that employees that obtained degrees from distance learning programs provided flexible schedules for the demands of full time employment and family life. Employers have reported that employees had a high degree of self directed focus with excellent work ethics and were top performers.