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Yellowbrick Blog

Online Learning At Home

Online as Effective as Classroom Learning

Tracey Reaves, M.A.
Coordinator of Adolescent Education and Clinical Services
Yellowbrick

Are you afraid that school closures from COVID-19 are going to harm you or your child academically? You don’t need to worry.  Research shows that online high school and college classes are at least as effective as classroom-based learning. In fact, web-based instruction can be even better at engaging students in active, not passive, learning.  David Pritchard of MIT concludes, “The amount learned is somewhat greater than in the traditional lecture-based course.” 

David Pritchard was the lead author on a 2014 international study conducted by MIT, Harvard and China’s Tsinghua University, in the “International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.” They found that online learning is effective for every student regardless of each individual’s amount of class preparation, skill, and engagement level. Pritchard summarized the findings, “(online) classes really can teach at least as effectively as traditional classroom courses…regardless of how much preparation and knowledge students start out with.” Students are engaging and interacting in productive ways. Including video conferencing programs can break classes into small groups just as easily, if not better, than in the traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.

The US Department of Education released a related report in 2010, “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies.” They found that online classes and the ways in which they can be delivered are not any different from traditional classroom learning. Their key findings showed that students in online courses “performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction. Learning outcomes for students who engaged in online learning exceeded those of students receiving face-to-face instruction.” [emphasis added]

These results offer needed reassurance to students and families concerned about school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, Pritchard and his colleagues studied homework content and group engagement in his study as well.“All cohorts learn equally,” he says, no matter the level of college education or preparation time in physics or math.  The current generation of high school and college students has grown up with evolving web-based technology so the transition to online learning is more natural and seamless than it would be for their parents and grandparents.

Even though school doors are closed, young minds can be open and thriving. Online education delivers high-quality, engaging learning that is just as beneficial as classroom instruction.  Given the technology at our fingertips, there are multiple platforms and programs to facilitate a breadth of daily lessons, meaningful homework, and engaging group discussions.

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