New Reseach on eLearning

Researchers found students fared equally well in both formats on every measure of learning. The only difference was that the online group appeared to learn faster.

Many of the students had family incomes of less than $50,000 and college grade point averages of lower than 3.0. Even those groups learned as well online as they did in the classroom.

“…today’s students become tomorrow’s faculty. They will have much greater comfort using these tools. This is only going to get better over time.”

The above quotes come from a Boston Globe article about new research findings (22 May 2012) from Ithaka S+R: “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials.” They sound pretty darn good to me. More exposure to technology in our techno-friendly global economy? Check. Students learning as much, even faster? Double check. This could be a path to graduating sooner–finish your course when you finish it, if that’s six weeks or the full fifteen–and an idea that’s gaining traction in college developmental education.

Plus, tuition might drop in some scenarios. The Ithaka researchers ran cost simulations that showed students could pay 50% less for an online course that is run by software, not a professor. You read that right. The course may have a real-life facilitator, but the modules and assignments are scored by a machine. The study mentioned above used an introductory statistics class, with a program developed at Carnegie Mellon.

Do students like the all-computer experience? “The robotic software did have disadvantages, the researchers found. For one, students found it duller than listening to a live instructor. Some felt as though they had learned less, even if they scored just as well on tests. Engaging students, such as professors might by sprinkling their lectures with personal anecdotes and entertaining asides, remains one area where humans have the upper hand,” comments Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed.

So maybe the answer is a real-life facilitator, who offers chat sessions and Skype office hours for the personal touch, while computer processors do the time-consuming dirty work of grading? Are we looking at a future where software can analyze a paper for grammatical and mechanical soundness, proper citation (programs already detect and flag plagiarism), and general logic and then, in a few seconds, assign an 83% to that paper? Can a computer grade an oil painting done for art class?

Image from Garry Knight under a Creative Commons license,

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