Study bolsters hybrid, online learning efficacy


Jul 30, 2009

A new study from the Department of Education, titled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, examined several studies comparing online learning to face-to-face learning and concluded that, “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”

Other studies have reached similar conclusions in recent years, and what is also interesting about this study is that it found that blended learning—in which a course combines elements of online and face-to-face learning—is the most effective. This is significant as blended or hybrid learning appears to be the fastest growing form of online learning out there, which, as we’ve said before, does not surprise us at all.

The study focused mostly at levels above K-12—undergraduate, graduate, military, and so on. The report is available online at

This study from the federal government is critical in its validation of the growing disruption of online learning. Online learning has proven itself by allowing people to access quality courses in places where they otherwise would not have had access to them—and in the post-secondary world by making education far more convenient and affordable for many people who otherwise would not be able to access it.

What’s important, however, is not to confuse the medium as the root cause for the results. Just because something is online does not automatically make it as good as or better than face-to-face. The medium and its accompanying new system do shift the platform of learning. This gives us the opportunity to give every student a quality experience and to customize for each individual in the way that he or she learns by making time variable and the learning constant; improving time on task as the report notes; offering students different paths; and so on. By doing this, we address some of the root causes of an individual’s struggles.

What we now need is better online programs that better customize to engage students by being intrinsically motivating and targeting specific needs—and thus take full advantage of this exciting medium.

– Michael B. Horn

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently serves as Chairman of the Clayton Christensen Institute and works as a senior strategist at Guild Education.