A landmark study was published recently by the US Department of Education (ED) that should encourage families to take advantage of web-based resources to help educate themselves and their families.

Non-profit research institute SRI International conducted the study on behalf of the ED, which reviewed, approved and published the findings.  It was a comprehensive analysis of 99 studies of web-based learning programs conducted between 1994 and 2006.  The results were stunning to many, and may mark a turning point in the acceptance of online learning systems across the country.

ComputerIn short, the study said that on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction alone.

You can review the report yourself here: http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf.

For those using online programs like LessonPathways.com’s program for K-5, it’s important to note that the findings apply primarily to adults.  The researchers were surprised to discover how few research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students have been published.  Let’s hope these findings spurs researchers to begin studying this question for younger learners.

However, I think there are three conclusions of this study that can be applied to learners of all ages, and we hope will encourage our audience to take full advantage of the many rich resources available online to help educate their family.

Number one: the study emphasizes that “online and face-to-face conditions generally differed on multiple dimensions, including the amount of time that learners spent on task.“  It goes on to say that “studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.

I have heard from many parents and teachers that the flexibility that online learners have–to spend more or less time on various learning tasks according to their individual needs–is one of the key reasons that online instruction is often more effective in the long run than a typical classroom situation.

Too often, classroom management requirements put both the classroom teacher and the students in the difficult position of having each student spend the same amount of time on each task.  We all know what usually happens: the kids who master the particular topic become bored, restless, and sometimes disruptive.  Children who are struggling with the material fall further behind every day, to the detriment of their education, self-esteem, and, too often, their love of learning.

Number two: the report says “instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.“  This is important for two reasons.

For homeschoolers it explains why so many families who use online resources also make arrangements for their children to gather with others to participate in group learning activities.  Children learn in many different ways and need to have concepts and practices reinforced not only by repetition but also by a variety of methods of instruction, illustration, elaboration, presentation, and collaboration.  Such “blended learning” opportunities are becoming increasingly popular among institutions that once offered only face-to-face or online programs.

You find can a partial list of some of these innovative–and often free–programs in a report by the North American Council for Online Learning called Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Education.  Locations of some of the the cited tuition-free schools include examples in Central PennslyvaniaChicago, and Las Vegas.

Homeschoolers can also find opportunities to join or organize a local instructional group by contacting one of the associations you’ll find at Homeschool.comHomeschool World, or Ann Zeise’s A to Z Home’s Cool homeschooling sites, or search for local groups at meetup.com .

For families with children in typical classroom-oriented schools, we hope this will encourage you to urge your school administrators to embrace web-based instructional programs that can help children learn at their own pace, and free their teachers to give more personalized instruction to individual children and small groups within their classrooms.

Number three: with respect to various teaching methods and learning styles, the study says “The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.“  That’s why LessonPathways has assembled and tagged a variety of resources in each pathway to make it easy to find resources that fit a family’s preferred teaching method and each child’s optimal learning style.

If you’d like to read other people’s perspectives on this landmark study, here is some of the best commentary about it I’ve found on the web.

Online learning boosts student perfomance, by Don Tapscott, September, 2009

At Your Fingers, an Oxford Don, by Steve Lohr, September 12, 2009, The New York Times.

Study bolsters hybrid, online learning efficacy by Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, July 23, 2009.

They’re experts in their fields, but if you have taught children at home or in the classroom, we consider you to be an expert, too, in what works for children like yours.  We would love to share your experience as well.  So, please offer your comments in the space provided below.

This post was written by Richard Rasmus, founder of LessonPathways.com.

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