Bowen, W. et al. (2012) Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials New York NY: Ithaka S+R
Another report that essentially finds no significant difference between different modes of learning when variables are ‘properly’ controlled.
The value of this study is that it is properly randomized and controlled with a sufficiently large sample population to produce significant results. Unfortunately though it comes up with nothing new – most experienced researchers in the field would have predicted the result. (For more on this topic, see “Does technology use increase learning outcomes?”).
This is a consequence of using the controlled comparative research model that has been found to be inadequate time and again in social and educational studies. The question to ask is not ‘Is one mode of teaching better than the other?’, but ‘Under what conditions? ‘ In fact it is the variables that affect outcomes that are not ‘controlled’ but exist in real life that matter. For instance if the hybrid course was designed and delivered differently, or less money spent on it, would the outcomes have been different and how?
Although the comparisons of learning outcomes under both modes of delivery are rigorously conducted, the authors then go on to do a hypothetical costs analysis which shows that hybrid learning could be cheaper. Sorry, guys, but that’s not on. Anyone can do that – for it to have any meaning or validity, it needs to be based on actual not fantasy costs. There are always unexpected costs in real life.
It’s good to have some real research being done in this area. It’s a pity though that it didn’t take account of years of past experience of media research. Different questions and a different research design might have resulted in something more useful.