Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials

Published May 22, 2012

William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, Kelly A. Lack, Thomas I. Nygren

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Online learning is quickly gaining in importance in U.S. higher education, but little rigorous evidence exists as to its effect on student learning outcomes. In "Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials," we measure the effect on learning outcomes of a prototypical interactive learning online (ILO) statistics course by randomly assigning students on six public university campuses to take the course in a hybrid format (with machine-guided instruction accompanied by one hour of face-to-face instruction each week) or a traditional format (as it is usually offered by their campus, typically with 3-4 hours of face-to-face instruction each week).

 

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.

 

Supporting Materials

"The Interactive Online Learning at Public Universities" Cost Simulation Macro file is available below to accompany Appendix B.

Download the Cost Simulation Macro (XLSX)

"Tapping Technology to Keep Lid on Tuition," The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2012

"Findings Give Boost to Online Classes," Boston Globe, May 22, 2012

"First Do No Harm: New Evidence on Online Learning in Higher Education," Brookings, May 22, 2012

"Online Classes Cut Costs and Human Contact," Boston Globe, May 27, 2012

"Score One for the Robo-Tutors," Inside Higher Ed, May 22, 2012

"Study Shows Promise and Challenges of ‘Hybrid’ Courses," Chronicle of Higher Education. May 22, 2012

"Study: Students Learn Just As Well Online…Maybe Faster," Radio Boston, May 24, 2012

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