June 24, 2017

When online learning fails

Figlio, D., Rush, N. and Yin, L. (2010) Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning Cambridge MA: National Bureau of Economic Research

See also: Carter, D. (2010) e-Learning under the microscope e-Campus News, Vol. 3, No. 10

This is another useless comparative study between online and face-to-face teaching, This study looked at 312 undergraduate students in one microeconomics course in one unnamed state university and found that male, Hispanic and low achieving students did worse online than in face-to-face classes. From this the NBER had the cheek to conclude that online learning is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

However, the online courses in this study were just video recordings of the classroom lectures. Is it surprising that the online students – especially the more disadvantaged – did less well? Will someone please tell universities and colleges in the United States that they need to redesign courses for online teaching? Look at the home page of my site and repeat it one hundred times: ‘Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of technology, but technology will never save bad teaching.’ Indeed, it usually makes it worse (the magnifier effect). Merely putting lectures (good or bad) online is bad design. See e-learning quality assurance standards, organization and research.

There should be a law against any university or college that fails to adopt well tried and tested standards in its teaching, face-to-face or online. This is criminal negligence, no less, and students should sue for fraud. But don’t blame online learning for this. It’s academic laziness and ignorance that’s at fault.

And will someone please tell researchers that they have to look at other variables besides the mode of delivery – such as the quality of the teaching – when making comparisons? Correlation is not the same as causality.

Boy, the holiday did me good.

Comments

  1. Tony Bates says:

    From Lalita Rajasingham, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

    Tony

    Brilliant critique. You are absolutely right. To blame the technology for poor learning outcomes is plain ignorance. Do these people not read the research as this debate has been taking place in the last 25 years. As you note, instructional/course design is essential if we are looking at a different modes of delivery. Radio is not print, nor is television radio with pictures. I too am increasingly tired of reading micro analyses of e-learning Vs face to face modes as each has its strengths and weaknesses. Journal and conference papers reflect this vividly as the editors and reviewers are probably just as ignorant and research-challenged as the authors. Talk of re-inventing the wheel! Regards, Lalita

  2. Tony Bates says:

    I’ve changed my mind about this study being ‘useless’. It is in fact quite useful, just not in terms of the conclusions drawn by the researchers. What the study does provide is some empirical evidence about why it is not a good strategy to use lecture capture as the main delivery format for online courses.

    Of course, we shouldn’t need to prove this, since previous best practice and earlier research should have made this clear before it was even considered.

  3. Yup, I agree. It’s such a shameful waste of time and money when researchers replicate poor research methods, only to serve up flawed and dangerous ‘results’ such as these. And what really gets me cranky is paying good money to attend conferences to have this kind of stuff dished up as well. Particularly when (in my role as conference paper reviewer) I have rejected papers such as these and turned up only to find they’ve been accepted into the program anyway.

    I think that we need ongoing mentoring of researchers in educational technology fields, to make sure their literature review is on track and they don’t accidentally skip 20 years of perfectly good research, only to design a study that falls into these kinds of traps. I was involved in the HERDSA planning conversations recently, and tried to get such a scheme in place. (ah, another story) but the feeling was the IT professionals needed help pitching and presenting their work for an academic audience. It’s a bit too late by then, i think. A nice PPT can’t compensate for a poor study design and flawed outcomes as a result.

    And having read back my rant….I think i must need a holiday…..
    Sarah 😮

  4. Sounds like academic scholars are afraid of being left in the dark…again. Perhaps they should call the cable guy and get wi-fi installed in those ivory towers? The profession of teaching as we know it will be extinct before technology ever is.

  5. burhan ogut says:

    I think people should read the paper more carefully before commenting on their method. This is a well designed and first randomized study that looks at the effectiveness of delivery on student achievement. There has been nothing done at this scale before. It’s pure ignorant to trash this study without even reading their paper.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “This is another useless comparative study between online and face-to-face teaching. This study looked at 312 undergraduate students in one microeconomics course in one unnamed state university and found that male, Hispanic and low achieving students did worse online than in face-to-face classes. From this the NBER had the cheek to conclude that online learning is not all that it’s cracked up to be. … And will someone please tell researchers that they have to look at other variables besides the mode of delivery – such as the quality of the teaching – when making comparisons? Correlation is not the same as causality.” Tony Bates, e-learning & distance education resources, 6. Oktober 2010 […]

  2. […] Tony Bates uses some strong words to comment on a study by Figlio, D., Rush, N. and Yin, L. (2010), but it’s more than justified. How many studies and “expert” opinions on online learning reflect the utmost ignorance of what it is or what it should be? Tony Bates has the authority to say this and his words are well worth remembering. Amplify’d from http://www.tonybates.ca […]

  3. […] Außerdem habe ich die Erfahrung gemacht, dass ein stark vorstrukturierter Unterricht, in dem sehr viel vorgegeben ist oder in dem die mobilen Digitalgeräte als Ersatz fĂźr den Computerraum eingesetzt werden, nicht besonders kreative Ergebnisse erzielt. Doch kann ich nicht feststellen, dass mobile Digitalgeräte ein „Selbstlernmedium“ darstellen. Technik wird also nicht zum Lehrer. Oder anders gesagt: „Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of technology, but technology will never save bad teaching.“ (Tony Bates 2010) […]

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