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What Are The Most Important Features Of Online Education?

http://edudemic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/online-education.jpgA recently released U.S. Department of Education report contains enough statistics, p-values and information about “statistical significance” to entertain even the most extreme statistician.  Fortunately, the article also breaks down the information into terms that those that suffer from a statistics related phobia can still glean some useful information.

There are a few interesting topics covered in the study that are worth additional consideration.  When developing your online material, you may want to consider the information in this study about the use of additional media, as well as the methods that students are able to engage in that media.

Additional Media

This study looks at a compilation of previous research as it relates to the use of videos and online quizzes.  “Elements such as video or online quizzes do not appear to influence the amount that students learn in online classes” according to the report.  The immediate red flag that may go up for some online developers is a potential concern about a lack of assessment.  Notice though that this report is specifically covering quizzes and not assessments.  As mentioned in previous posts, these two things are often bundled together incorrectly.  There are plenty of ways to assess students outside of the utilization of a quiz or randomly generated test bank.

Online course developers need to always evaluate the inclusion of the various elements in a course as it relates to the amount of value that it brings to the learning outcomes.  Students can certainly utilize the course content (readings) to go back and answer various questions on a multiple choice test.  This would be something that would be covered in the “Remembering” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

With some additional effort and consideration, a developer should be able to move from “Remembering” into “Analyzing” and potentially even “Creating”.  What better way to engage a student in learning than allowing them to be challenged into doing more than simply regurgitating information for test bank questions.

Similarly, this study reminds developers to reevaluate the additional media that is contained within their courses.  “Inclusion of more media in an online application does not appear to enhance learning.”  This finding could potential be related to simply overwhelming the students with media, rather than valuable content, just for the sake of including multiple media sources.

Learner Control

The study addressed the methods in which learners were able to control the media content.  There is an indication that “some evidence suggests that the learner’s ability to control the learning media is important.”  In a study originally published in the American Journal of Distance Education, Dongsong Zhang, addressed the impact of the students ability to directly control the content.  “Zhang found a statistically significant positive effect in favor of learner control over Web functionality.”

During his study, he had a group that was required to watch content from start to finish without the ability to move around or continue to the next module until the current module was complete.  His second group was able to move around, rewind, and watch the content in any order that they desired.  While his study doesn’t provide the reason why the second group tended to perform better, there may be some things that developers can surmise or consider.

Certainly all learners don’t need the same remediation, or level of detail, on the same content within the course.  Requiring that learners look at all of the content may reinforce the problem of content overload, and the learners may be “checked out” when material that would be beneficial for them is actually delivered.  The requirement to step through all of the content would be similar to a traditional lecture environment which consists of nothing but one way dialogue.  Educators are now adapting to multiple learning styles/intelligence of learners and mixing up their delivery to account for how their students learn.  Online instruction shouldn’t be any different.