Online Learning for the Win

In the “A Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning” study, online and conventional learning were compared. The results found that online learners slightly outperformed face-to-face learners on achievements measures. The outcome = the conclusion that distance education is as effective as conventional education in terms of academic outcomes, rather than more or less effective. The overall findings? On average, students seem to perform equally well or better academically in online learning.

Why are online students performing equally well or better?

A main reason (and an advantage to online learning) is that students can access online learning materials at anytime, anywhere. This helps students revisit concepts.

Cognitive psychology states that learning involves the use of memory, motivation, thinking, and reflection (an important part). Learning is seen as an internal process, and the amount learned depends on the processing capacity of the learner, the amount of effort expended in the learning process, and the depth of the processing. When an online student is able to go back to their online course to look at the materials, this helps foster learning.

When created correctly, online courses should use strategies that allow learners to attend to the learning materials so that they can be transferred from the sensory store to the working memory. The amount of information transferred to the working memory depends on the amount of attention that was paid to the incoming information, and on whether cognitive structures are in place to make sense of the information. When information is put into the working memory correctly, it will be transferred and stored in the long-term memory.

So how should online courses organize and present the materials?

According to “The Theory and Practice of Online Learning”, online learning strategies must present the materials and use strategies to enable students to process the materials efficiently.

For example:

  • Information should be highlighted to focus on learner’s attention.
  • Information should be grouped into meaningful sequences.
  • Headings should be used to organized the details, and formatted to allow learners to attend and process the information they contain.
  • Important information should be placed in the center of the screen for reading, and learners must be able to read from left to right.
  • Information should be organized or chunked in 5 to 10 pieces of appropriate size to facilitate processing.

Overall, there may be many factors that contribute to online students preforming well in online learning. Backed up by cognitive psychology, a main factor is that online students have the ability to process information continually, and have information readily available. For more information on how to organize and present materials in online courses, click here.