It’s not unusual to run into people who listen politely to
my spiel about how great online learning is, and then ask “the” question: is it as effective as classroom training? It’s a loaded and somewhat unfair question
(from my point of view); loaded because it suggests the classroom is the gold
standard against which all other forms of learning are judged, and unfair
because it’s too broad to be meaningful.
You could ask the same question of any learning
modality. Is the classroom
effective? Well, depends on the quality
of the teacher, the material being taught, even the classroom itself. You could also ask what the definition of “effective”
is. Are you referring just to individual
learning outcomes, or are you asking if it’s effective in supporting overall
business goals? Are you taking into account the constraints most companies have
for cost and resources? Have you
considered how the learning will be delivered to global populations?
So often my response to “the” question is the answer: “it
depends.” That sounds like a cop-out.
But thanks to two recent studies, I can answer that not only is online
learning as effective, it has been found to be more effective than classroom
The first study that comes as music to the ears of any
online learning proponent is the US Department of Education’s “Evaluation
of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning:
A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies.”
In a review of 176 studies conducted
between 1996 and 2008, the researchers found that online learning is actually more
effective than classroom. It’s great to
finally have statistical research showing the effectiveness of online learning,
and undoubtedly this will come as a shock to some folks who would assume that
face-to-face is always superior.
In many ways the study provokes as many questions as it
answers. One of the key findings was
that the use of video does not improve learning outcomes. It made me wonder about what kind of video
had been studied. It also questioned
whether the positive results for online learning had resulted from the fact
that the online courses took place over a longer period of time. They may have been on to something there.
The second recent study of note was conducted by the Montreal
Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University. This study
looked at how different types of training resulted in different types of memory
formation. Specifically the study looked
at the difference between training events spaced out over time and “massed
training.” The study found that “trials
distributed over time were superior at generating long-term memories.”
The McGill University study was looking at memory formation
at the molecular level, and the study subjects aren’t ones that we see much of
in the corporate world: a type of mollusk called Aplysia (aka
sea slugs). However, the researchers believe
that the chemical process of memory formation is likely to be the same from mollusks
to higher life forms, so the results are something to pay attention to.
What struck me about the second study is that for years now,
many of our customers have been talking about the desire to deliver learning in
smaller chunks, spaced out over time.
They may not have had a scientific research study on memory formation to
back them up, but they were definitely headed down the right path.
Just don’t mention to your next class of high-potentials
that their learning program is based on sea slug research. They might not be
flattered by the comparison.
By: Julie Ogilvie