Study Shows the Benefits of Online Degrees

A recent study performed by Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative shows that online students perform just as well if not better than traditional students in the classroom. Besides being a faster and more convenient means of earning a degree, studying online has been shown to be just as valuable as studying in a traditional classroom. According to KRISTV:

Ongoing research being conducted by cognitive scientists and education experts at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that it is. Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative (OLI), funded by $5.6 million in grants from the Hewlett Foundation, designed a series of high-quality introductory college level courses available for free on the Internet to anyone with an interest. Unlike other open-courseware that simply posts the class syllabus online, Carnegie Mellon's OLI offers a Web-based interactive classroom complete with diagrams, real-time feedback, and a virtual tutor that provides hints when needed.

OLI currently offers 11 online courses, ranging from physics to logic to economics. The chemistry course features a virtual lab, where students are given a real-world problem (purifying the arsenic contaminated water supply in Bangladesh, for example). A typical French lesson includes a video shot in France of two French actors meeting each other at the train station. Students listen to the audio answer choices and choose the one that makes the most sense. The pedagogical methods underlying each exercise were researched by the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, aided by a $25 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Last fall, Carnegie Mellon took students enrolled in an introductory statistics course and divided them into two groups. The first group served as the control, attending the traditional three lecture hours per week in person and completing hundreds of homework problems. The second group took the course online. They didn't buy a textbook, and only met with an instructor once a week. Students in both groups took three midterms and a final. In the end, the online group performed as well or better than the traditional group.

This semester, Carnegie Mellon is studying whether online learning could be just as effective as traditional classroom-based instruction, but finish the material in less time. The university chose 23 students to take an accelerated statistics course, which lasts only eight weeks--half the normal semester length.

"We wanted to make OLI better, faster," explains Candace Thille, director of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon. "Now we're testing to see whether we can get the same outcome with less work and less time."

At press time, the class was still underway, but OLI statistics professor Oded Meyer says it's clear that the students are much more focused.

"Right now it seems like it's succeeding," he says, noting that the online test scores have been as good if not better than typical classes.

Similar studies also show that online study may offer a more efficient means of teaching where students can get instant feedback from their professors. The only downside to online learning that was found was that there's really no good way to instate collaborative learning into an online classroom. Students of online colleges are forced to do all of their work independently.

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