Virtual School Meanderings

July 25, 2017

More Media Comparison Studies in K-12 Online Learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael Barbour @ 10:09 am

While I applaud the federal government and the REL system for doing more research into K-12 distance, online, and blended learning – and the focus on online credit recovery, given how much it is used is admirable, but do we really need yet another media comparison study in the field?

Does online learning work for LAUSD students taking makeup classes? Study aims to find out

Researchers have received a $3.26-million federal grant to study the effectiveness of online academic credit recovery programs — the kind that allow students to make up failed classes and graduate on time — in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The grant, from the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, will pay for the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit research group, to study how online makeup courses for Algebra 1 and ninth-grade English compare with retaking the class in person.

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The results will be one of three things:

  1. there is no difference between online credit recovery and traditional credit recovery
  2. there is a positive difference in favour of online credit recovery over traditional credit recovery
  3. there is a positive difference in favour of traditional credit recovery over online credit recovery

However, the overall conclusion of what this tells us will be nothing!  In these two situations, there are so many things that are different that one cannot attribute the fact one is better or worse simply to the medium in which the credit recovery is delivered.

Essentially, this is a replication by AIR of their studies of online credit recovery in Chicago.  In that earlier study, according to this article, the researchers found:

“They determined the online course materials to be more rigorous and found that 76% of face-to-face students passed their credit recovery courses, compared with 66% of online students, Heppen said. But students in the face-to-face classes also scored better on an algebra assessment that AIR developed, and the two groups graduated at the same rates three years later.”

So did the online students perform worse because the course materials were harder?  Or did the researchers conclude that the online course materials were harder because more students failed (which would be a false conclusion)?  What kind of human support was available to the students in both groups?  What kind of interaction did the students in both groups have with their teacher or various resources?  How much time did each group spend on the content?  How were both conditions designed, delivered, and supported? How much was spent on providing the experience for each group?  These are just some of the questions that would need to be answered to actually tell us anything meaningful.

The fact that the face-to-face group did better in terms of passing the course and on a contrived assessment, and both groups did the same in the long-term tells us nothing.  Other than the federal government through the REL system continues to waste money on K-12 distance, online, and blended learning research that could be going to answer meaningful, useful research questions.


  1. Yup! And the REL folks can only undertake research approved by OERI — you would think they’d track how many of these studies they approve. Of course it’s completely possible OERI knows nothing about online learning and so is trying to discover as much as possible, or they want to find someone to say something negative.

    Comment by onlinelearningevangelist — July 25, 2017 @ 10:39 am | Reply

    • It isn’t just the money wasted on REL media comparison studies. I count the Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities into that same category.

      In both instances, you have folks that just don’t or didn’t fully understand the field of K-12 distance, online, and blended learning. And because of that you end up with a lot of wasted money on research that doesn’t tell us anything relevant or tells us stuff that we already knew (and knew for the past decade).

      Comment by Michael Barbour — July 25, 2017 @ 10:42 am | Reply

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