In a report published by the Technology Assessment Study Collaborative at Boston College titled e-Learning for Educators (2010), the design and results of four randomized controlled studies were evaluated in terms of effects of online delivery professional development (OPD), on teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogy and students’ content knowledge and practice. The study was part of a larger initiative, the e-Learning for Educators (efe) Project. The subjects were 4th and 7th grade English Language Arts teachers and students, as well as 5th and 8th grade mathematics teachers and students. The four trials followed the same research design. All participants were assigned to control or experimental groups. In each trial, there were seven OPD workshops to which teachers in the experimental group participated. Of the seven sessions, the first one was an orientation session. The other six consisted of content knowledge addressing three aspects: readings, activities and discussions. The study used a one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to estimate treatment effects and account for the increase between pre-scores and post-scores among all groups (experimental and control). A hierarchical linear model (HLM) was used to estimate the treatment effect on students’ outcomes.

In general, the online professional development through the efe framework had modest to large positive effects on teachers’ content knowledge in ELA and mathematics and for all grade levels. However, students made small but statically significant improvements in isolated subject areas. It is worth noticing that all teachers volunteered to be part of the study and those selected were randomly chosen through their school. The fact that participants volunteered affects the nature of the study. These are teachers who care about professional development.

As far as I know, this is one of very few large-scale OPD studies of student achievement and it seems to indicate that this efe model has the potential to deliver more effective teaching and learning.

In another study by Wendy Rickard (2010) The Efficacy (and Inevitability) of Online Learning in Higher Education, the case is made for online learning as an integral aspect of formal and informal education. In the report three benefits are stated: Increased access to education, improved quality of education and cost containment. It is noticed through a case at Florida State College at Jacksonville, that the quality of online courses does not really match that of face-to-face programs until an element of interactivity is well planned into the online delivery. In online courses it is difficult to see how students are engaging with the content, the information and how thay are making connections relevant to their lives and majors. Thus, the idea of crafting online courses to not only serve students’ needs but also improve learning and make relevant connections has to be a priority before developing a business model for these delivery methods. However, in a recent Charlie Rose show (aired April 25th) discussing online education, there was an underlined sense of an education system putting the profit interests of institutions and program developers before the needs of students.

Rickard’s report offers other aspects that affect the pedagogy of online learning. Responsiveness refers to the pliability of the online programs and ability to adapt to scale, economy and students’ readiness. Online delivery also adjusts to diverse learning styles; the management of course and content is customized. Online delivery, Rickard continues, is student-centered providing more control to learners. Her report acknowledges two challenges; that of the institutional perspective and of the learner perspective. Although institutions of higher learning are proficient at delivering the face-to-face educational experience, few institutions understand what it takes to make online learning a meaningful and lasting experience. The training of faculty and selection of appropriate learning management systems are just two aspects when building a successful online program. This alone does not guarantee the realization of a good online program, the view among many in academia is that those students most attracted to online courses are the ones with the least potential to succeed. Many students assume that online courses are easier. It is my experience, however, that online courses more often than not require more work; that is busy work, because the instructor does not understand the nature of online learning and has not been trained to teach through that medium.

In a meta-analysis of online learning studies (2010) conducted by the U.S. Department of Education numerous advantages were highlighted. Among others, students taking online courses performed better than their counterparts who took the same courses face-to-face. Online learning seems to be an effective alternative for college students and working professionals. I found an important point, acknowledged in the report, that combining online and face-to-face components has a greater advantage over those that are completely face-to-face or all online delivered.

Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 is a survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the College Board.  The interviewees are “chief academic officers” in institutions of higher learning and their responses are compared to the group’s studies conducted since 2003. When it comes to comparing online learning outcomes to face-to-face one-third of the people surveyed expressed the idea that the learning outcomes of online learning is inferior to that of face-to-face. The rest had a favorable view toward the learning outcomes of online learning. “Less than one-third of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accepted the value and legitimacy of online education. This percent has changed little over that last eight years” (p. 5). The support and training for faculty teaching online courses varies widely across colleges and universities. However, most of the training is realized through a mentoring approach or informally and only a small percentage of institutions do not offer any kind of support for their online teaching staff. The survey indicates that enrollment growth for online programs seems to have plateaued and it varies across disciplines and programs. The one area in which the survey showed that online delivery was viewed as inferior compared to face-to-face was in the student-to-student interactions. Neither this study nor the two aforementioned distinguishes between synchronous or asynchronous delivery methods; as they all speak of the benefits (from the standpoint) of scheduling flexibility.

In order for students to succeed and benefit from the educational system and enhance learning, I believe that the relationship between educator and learner is as important, if not more, as the quality of the educator. Building that relationship is part of the overall quality of education because it encourages free thinking, the flow of ideas and sense of purpose thus, seemingly, this is more feasibly accomplished through face-to-face interaction. Paulo Oemig

References (in order of appearance):

e-Learning for Educators: Effects of on-line professional development on teachers and their students

The efficiency (and inevitability) of online learning in higher education

Charlie Rose show on online education. Program aired April 25, 2013

Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning

Going the distance: online education in the United States, 2011



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