While many still question the benefits of online learning, there is one fact that is undeniable: online learning increases access which expands educational opportunity. By accommodating more students, offering greater scheduling flexibility for non-traditional students, and reducing many overhead costs associated with traditional college courses, online learning in higher education has the potential to expand learning opportunities for many students.
Using a randomized trial, the authors assigned students at various colleges to the same interactive online statistics course and tracked their achievement. Students in the trial were either assigned to take the course in a hybrid format (computer-guided instruction and one hour of face-to-face instruction each week) or in a traditional format (three to four hours of face-to-face instruction). The trial indicated that there was essentially no difference in learning outcomes between the two groups.
Except for one: cost.
The authors use this evidence to support the claim that if there is essentially no difference in achievement, switching to hybrid models and incorporating technology into the traditional classroom can significantly reduce the cost of education. Classroom costs, although difficult to measure in this particular study, can also be reduced with savings in everything from section size to classroom use.
This is good news for K-12 education, where school districts are under increasing pressure to do more with less money. Introducing technology into the classroom, as the Ed Next study suggests, would both increase productivity and reduce the cost of instruction. School districts should be encouraged by this evidence to experiment with new blends of teachers and technology as there is now some evidence that it can work. Researchers and policymakers ought to see the opportunity as well. To date, little has been written about the effectiveness of online and blended learning in the K-12 space. Given what we’re learning about the potential of technology to improve educational equity and progress, we should expect to see more research and analysis in this new area.