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Online Learning: How Effective Is It?

Laura A. Oda/MCT/Landov

More and more students are using online classes but how effective are they?

It used to be that if we wanted to learn something, we took a class in a classroom, in a building, and with a teacher in front of the room.

Of course that’s still often the case, but over the last 15 or 20 years or so, online learning, in its various forms, has become ubiquitous in our lives.  

In fact, online learning is in classrooms at all educational levels, although maybe not in every classroom.

It seems it’s here to stay.

During the 2015 spring semester at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, about 6.000 students took online classes out of almost 30,000 students enrolled at UNLV. 

"I think online learning has become attractive, not just at UNLV but in general, because it allows people the flexibility to pursue education in a way that they might not have the ability to between children and work schedules," Leeann Fields, the co-director of the Office of Online Education at the University of Nevada Las Vegas said. 

Rachel Christiansen is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada and she is pursuing her masters degree online. 

She agrees with Fields that working for a degree online allows for flexibility. 

"I have a family and I do have a full-time job so going to a physical class and having that requirement was just not in the cards for me, but I've wanted to pursue a higher degree for sometime," she said.

Christiansen said she choose to get a degree from a university outside of the state, because Nevada schools did not have the program she wanted to pursue. 

There are many different forms of online learning, including classes developed and used by schools, classes created by vendors who sell the material to schools, and free online classes and tutorials created by companies like Kahn Academy and Coursera,  so-called “MOOCS” – Massive Open Online Classes.

Bob Murphy is the director of evaluation research at the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. He also wrote a book about online learning and the research on its effectiveness.

"In general, the quality of the effectiveness research was pretty poor," he said, "However, what we did find was that in general online learning, folks in online learning courses, did as well or better than adults and students in traditional courses."

And there’s all manner of mixing, matching, and blending. Blending learning refers to classes where some work done in class and some done online. 

Murphy said many institutions, especially colleges and universities, are using online classes to help fill education gaps for students who are unprepared coming out of college.

"Many institutions are offering online courses so that students can pass those remedial courses at their own rate and time," Murphy said. "I think the development courses that are more successful developmental courses, remedial courses, that are using online learning are doing it in a hybrid mode where students are coming to campus and coming into classrooms and using the software."






Leeann Fields, Co-Director, Office of Online Education, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Bob Murphy, co-author,“Learning Online: What Research Tells Us About Whether, When and How,” and director of evaluation research at “The Center for Technology in Learning” at SRI International, Menlo Park, CA;  Rachel Christiansen, producer, KNPR's State of Nevada

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.