What the research says about online learning

Experts predict that by the end of 2022 we will fully enter a post-pandemic world. The mass availability of vaccines will hopefully allow for the resumption of more workplace group face-to-face interactions. Despite meeting in large numbers once again, it is highly likely that the post-pandemic world will continue to enjoy the value of blended learning and the efficiency of online learning platforms.

Online learning, like any learning methodology, has unique pros and cons. Researchers agree on one firm point: to be effective, online learning requires more effort and initiative from the student. Problems therefore begin to arise when students lack the necessary mindset and skills to self-regulate by motivating, monitoring and disciplining themselves to make the most of their learning experiences. When they are not set-up to succeed and when this support for success is not refreshed and reinforced, they struggle.

A lack of social interaction can prevent learners from feeling ‘connected’ to their learning, which in turn negatively impacts their performance. A 2016 study by Heppen et al. explored whether an online course could help students recover credits after failing an algebra course by randomly assigning 1000 students to online learning and face-to-face conditions. Unfortunately, students in the online course reported the class was more difficult than those in the face-to-face course. They were less likely to recover credits and performed worse on the final algebra test.

One of the clearest signs that a student is struggling to meaningfully engage and make progress on the online platform, is a lack of attendance. As Gillet-Swan points out in a 2017 paper, attendance in online courses can plummet down to 50% between the first and third week, even where students are able to elect their own platforms and are constantly encouraged by instructors. This sounds disappointing.

Take heart – meta-analyses suggest that, overall, online learning experiences are roughly as effective as traditional, in-person learning experiences. Furthermore, when evaluating online learning experiences, it appears that those adopting a ‘blended’ approach enable students to achieve the best results possible.

Blended learning entails a mixture of remote self-paced and facilitated classroom learning activities. Students tend to learn more consistently using a blended system and are also more likely to finish their learning on time, as was found in a 2014 study by Shea and Bidjerano. Moreover, a 2017 study by Kintu et al. found that the effectiveness of blended learning is dependent on the design features of the course and the learning outcomes which the student is hoping to achieve. To this end, Dziuban et al. found in a 2018 paper that in a blended learning programme students seek the following three features: clear establishment and progress towards course objectives, the creation of an effective learning environment, and effective communication on the part of the instructor.

What becomes clear from the research is that the moment students stop feeling connected to their learning is the moment that participation and results begin to dip.  It is thus crucial that organisations make use of blended learning in the right way to provide a stopgap for students who struggle to perform in isolation. An example of a blended approach to learning would be collaborative and facilitated sessions. It may involve using live streaming services to help learners truly feel that they are “in class”, interacting with both their facilitators and their peers. Online activities can also be supplemented by real-life case studies, syndicate project experiences or assignments which require an aspect of physical or social interaction. CPS has built up years of experience, providing blended learning as a component of all learning journeys. Student surveys how much they enjoy these and how valuable facilitated sessions are to achieving great results.  Using learning science, CPS finds the best ways to keep learners successfully onboard for the duration of their online programmes. We set students up for success and keep their learning fresh by ensuring they are seen and heard in person, online, live and valued as they journey to achieving future skills that will build their careers. 

November 8, 2021


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