Means, B. et al. (2009) Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies Washington, DC: US Department of Education

From the Abstract

A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.

That seems pretty conclusive, for a research report, doesn’t it? Well, note the following ‘caveat’ in the report:

“In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages. At the same time, one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction.”

The report also noted that blended learning (a combination of face-to-face and online learning) produced the best results, but this may be mainly due to the extra ‘time-on-task’ of students in such a context.

For further comments on this report, see:

Jaschik, S. (2009) The Evidence on Online Education Inside Higher Education, June 29

Terry Anderson’s blog:


  1. Shouldn’t the title read “Online students perform better than face-to-face students … not because they are online, but because online courses tend to be planned better, and the online students do even better if they also meet face-to-face”?

    Disclaimer: I build LMS systems for a living, so I like to see studies accurately reported upon.


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