ITHAKA Releases Results from Randomized Blended Learning Study: Similar Results at Lower Cost and in Less Time

ITHAKA released a report this week titled Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials. This study focused on the implementation of Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) Statistics course across six campuses. A summary of the findings are below:

We find that learning outcomes are essentially the same—that students in the hybrid format “pay no price” for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy. These zero-difference coefficients are precisely estimated. We also conduct speculative cost simulations and find that adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run.

While blended learning advocates may be disappointed that the learning outcomes were similar, the fact that the study showed similar results at a lower price is still promising. Furthermore, it is important to note that students in the blended learning course spent on average 25% less time taking the course. In other words, they not only achieved the same results at lower cost, but they did so in significantly less time. While promising, keep in mind that this study focused only on a statistics course, so these results may not necessarily be generalizable across other courses and subject areas.

This example illustrates an important point that we should consider as we weigh the relative benefits of new instructional models compared with legacy approaches. The three basic questions that any study should be asking are: to what degree are these models driving …

  • Effectiveness: did students master the intended learning objectives?
  • Efficiency: how quickly did they master them?
  • Cost: how much did it cost?

In this study, the findings were that effectiveness was held constant while efficiency increased and costs were lowered. We could imagine other models demonstrating different combinations of these three variables that could be equally or more compelling, including the ideal combination – greater effectiveness, greater efficiency and lower costs.

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