Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

Let’s conduct our very own unscientific survey on e-learning

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper pokes holes in a 2009 U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis that concluded students on average perform better in “online learning conditions than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper pokes holes in a 2009 U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis that concluded students on average perform better in “online learning conditions than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

Online proponents took that federal seal of approval last year and ran with it. But the authors of the working paper [PDF], released this month, claim that the federal meta-analysis [PDF] of online studies was “deeply flawed” and “its implications have been overblown,” according to an article published Tuesday by Inside Higher Ed.

“None of the studies cited in the widely publicized meta-analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education included randomly-assigned students taking a full-term course, with live versus online delivery mechanisms, in settings that could be directly compared (i.e., similar instructional materials delivered by the same instructor),” according to the NBER authors quoted by Inside Higher Ed. “The evidence base on the relative benefits of live versus online education is therefore tenuous at best.”

Proponents of bricks-and-mortar learning must be cheering.

Article continues after advertisement

Pawlenty stirs national discussion
The working paper arrives in the same month that Gov. Tim Pawlenty set off a national discussion with his “iCollege” comments on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” MinnPost writer Sharon Schmickle had an excellent follow-up story last week on why e-learning is neither cheap nor easy.

For those who haven’t kept tabs, Pawlenty wants the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to have 25 percent of its credits earned online by 2015; MnSCU has about 12.5 percent online now. He also has been nudging the University of Minnesota to do more online. Minnesotans are familiar with Pawlenty’s penchant for e-learning, but apparently it was news to the rest of the nation. Here’s what the governor had to say on “The Daily Show”:
  
“There’s another way to deliver the service other than a one-size-fits-all monopoly provider that says show up at 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101. Can I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from where ever I feel like? Instead of paying thousands of dollars can I pay $199 for iCollege?”

Last week, Inside Higher Ed interviewed Minnesota academics about the governor’s emphasis on e-learning and referred to my colleague’s story.

A colorful quote comes from J.B. Shank, an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Shank told Inside Higher Ed that he is troubled by the governor’s portrayal of the issue as a battle between the iPod generation and luddites. 

“Technophilic talk is a pernicious distraction because it allows for a certain kind of justification for not giving the university the money it needs to provide the kind of education it wants to provide,” Shank is quoted as saying.

As you can imagine, the latest research isn’t going over well with the people who did the federal study.

So, let’s just run our own unscientific survey on MinnPost.com. I’d like to hear from students and instructors about their experiences with e-learning vs. in-class instruction. Did students do better online or in a classroom with the instructor, and why or why not? What kinds of classes work well online and which ones don’t?

Please share your thoughts below in Comments or email me at cselix[at]minnpost[dot]com.