Virtual Learning: What Works?

With more and more students studying online, what actually helps students?

The spread of coronavirus throughout the U.S. has led to an unprecedented experiment in virtual learning. With schools across the country moving to an online learning model for the rest of the semester, The Learning Agency Lab decided to take a look at the research on virtual learning. Excerpts from their piece appear below:

A substantial amount of the research in virtual learning has been in the context of higher education. Online learning programs for undergraduates and professionals have expanded dramatically over the past decade, and many researchers have taken advantage of such programs to research instructional design choices and to compare online courses to face-to-face courses directly.

Meta-analyses suggest that online courses are about as effective as face-to-face courses. Blended learning courses, however, tend to be the best of all, with the important caveat that students also tend to perform more work in blended learning courses.

One of the major risks of virtual learning is for the lowest performing students. For instance, one study explored whether an online course could help students recover credit after failing an algebra course by randomly assigning 1,000 students to online learning and face-to-face conditions. Unfortunately, students in the online course reported the class as more difficult than those in the face-to-face course, were less likely to recover credit, and performed worse on a final algebra test. Most researchers agree that effective virtual learning requires more student initiative and effort than comparable face-to-face instruction. 

Research has also identified the major challenges associated with virtual teaching, effective methods for online teaching, the best way to manage online discussions, and how to teach self-regulation skills virtually.

For more, see