Online Learning: The Point/Counterpoint Examination

What is Online Learning?
Pure Online Learning
Internet-based education outside the bounds of a normal classroom without a physical teacher present to assist in completion of online assignments.

Blended Online Learning
Online learning which can take the form of various combinations and degrees of face-to-face and pure online learning.
A 2008 national survey of school district administrators reveals important information about how frequently online learning was used in K-12 education in the United States during the 2007-2008 academic year. Of the responding public school districts, 75% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course. 70% of districts had one or more students in a fully online course, while 41% of districts had one or more students in a blended course, showing a greater prevalence of fully online courses for K-12 districts. These figures are increases on the order of 10% since 2005-2006 and have likely increased since then. The overall number of K-12 students enrolled in online courses in 2007-2008 was estimated to be 1,030,000 - a significant increase (by nearly 50%) since the last survey taken in 2005-2006.
Source: http://sloanconsortium/org/publications/survey/k-12online2008

Online learning has many advantages. These include (though are not limited to) the following:
  • Online learning can often be done more cost-effectively than face-to-face instruction by (sometimes) cutting out the need for building and heating costs.
  • An increase in the number of students per class does not have as negative an impact on learning as such an increase does in face-to-face instruction.
  • Online learning allows students from rural areas to gain access to courses they would not otherwise be able to take, such as AP courses or other specialized courses.
  • Online learning taps into students' interest in technology. It can reflect the reality that students are already spending a good portion of their time online or 'linked in.'

Since pure online learning experiences are so variable, it is important to differentiate between additions or inclusions that improve the quality of learning that happens online versus additions that have no effect. Research indicates that incorporating simulations, prompting students for reflection, generating learning content based on student responses (a learner-adapting software), and the addition of media that students can control or select improves online learning. Factors that have little to no effect on online learning include providing multiple-choice quizzes, stimulating engagement through concept mapping and guiding questions (possibly because these are seen by students as inauthentic ways to learn), and the addition of media over which students have no control.

  • Lack of face-to-face contact with peers and teacher
  • Students may feel a sense of social isolation
  • Technical difficulties


Social Isolation
Social isolation in online learning courses is a factor that is often ignored by many educators. However, it is something that may influence a student's attitude toward online learning and so should be looked at in closer detail. It is unlikely that educators will be able to completely erase a student's feeling of social isolation, but there are some techniques that can be used to help counteract them. One technique is the use of synchronous communication. In synchronous communication, teachers can use chat rooms to allow students to ask questions of each other and the teacher. Note that synchronous communication should not be used as a replacement to asynchronous communication, rather it should be used in conjunction with such methods.

Another technique to combat feelings of social isolation among students is the introduction of a forming stage. The forming stage is a warm-up period designed to foster a "sense of community" among classmates. In this stage, students are encouraged to post introductions to themselves in a forum in order to begin building an online presence. Students may also use chat rooms to "meet" the other members of the class and the instructor.

Finally, educators should adhere to effective communication guidelines. For successful communication to occur, the following strategies should be implemented:
  • Limit the use of jargon and complexity in instructions
  • Don't digress from the objectives set in the course outlines
  • Realize students are not experts in the area being taught
  • Realize students may be struggling with new ideas, concepts, and technology
  • Be self-confident but not arrogant when communicating with students
  • Adhere to the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Short and Sweet - whenever possible



  • Easier to read assignments at own pace
  • Easier to complete assignments online at own pace
  • Tests and quizzes are easier online (or is that a con?)
  • Students prefer online courses to regular instruction
  • Students feel more productive in an online course
  • “When students perceived that courses were supportive for their learning, they were more likely to be satisfied with the online course."

Blended online learning provides options and opportunities that normal classroom instruction does not. Learning extends beyond the classroom. For instance, if a teacher wants to show her students the vast amounts of Art in the Louvre, he or she need only to take have a computer and projector. If a student misses a lecture, he or she can watch the lecture online. Furthermore, blended online learning empowers students. Using the internet and other technological resources puts students in charge of their curriculum. However, unlike pure online learning, blended online learning works in unison (and many times a supplementary fashion) to teachers. The human element remains in a blended online atmosphere providing students with both the human and technological resources which empower students.

Here are some tools for incorporating online learning tools:

  • Studies show significant lower test scores in online learning in comparison with relative in-class environment.
  • Proven and quality traditional in-class instruction and/or instructors may not necessarily transfer to the on-line learning experience.
  • Lack of quality teacher training and experience is more prevalent in on-line learning.
  • On-line learning is more likely to suffer from inappropriate, irrelevant and/or misguided instruction.

Jeff Anstine and Mark Skidmore’s 2005 quantitative report on the pros and cons of online and blended online learning pointed to perhaps the most revealing comparative statistic; significantly lower test scores (18.6%) in online learning to the same assessment in the traditional classroom. That’s a serious con to the serious student. Part of that significant difference more than likely can be attributed to the lack of social stimulation and positive learning influence and modeling that comes from live interaction with instructor(s) and peers. What should not be discounted or overlooked however is the lack of quality training and experience in the relatively new and constantly evolving field of online pedagogy. Staying on top of traditional in-class lesson plans and assessment is challenging enough for any instructor, but when you add in elements of new technology and advances that change and progress on a near day-to-day basis, you bring on a daunting and vast set of new learning and production skills to master. As a result, how well, or not-so-well, online technology and pedagogy is learned and synthesized by the instructor should be of upmost concern and importance to the student when choosing the most effective learning environment.

It is difficult to assess how the quality of online learning compares to the quality of face-to-face learning. Using any one study would be like looking at one school to get a sense of the U.S. educational system; the variations are simply too numerous to pin down with any one example. Any one study needs to control for a huge number of complex factors, including the quality of the teacher, the amount of time the teacher has spent instructing students face-to-face versus teaching online, the amount of time spent by students 'in class' or on the class, when and how teachers give feedback, the type of media incorporated into lessons, and the incoming and projected abilities of students. We therefore urge caution when using and interpreting studies about online learning.

A particularly helpful resources we found was a meta-analysis done by the Department of Education, which found that, on average, exclusively online learning is no better or worse than face-to-face learning, and that blended learning might be marginally better than face-to-face learning. However, the report also cautions generalizing these results to K-12 education, since most of the studies reviewed looked instead at post-secondary or professional education (only a dozen or so focused on K-12).


Kaitlyn's References (Cons of Pure Online Learning; Social Isolation)
McInnerney, J. M., & Roberts, T. S. 2004. Online Learning: Social Interaction and the Creation of a Sense of Community. Educational Technology & Society, 7(3): 73-81.

Neuhauser, C. 2002. Learning Style and Effectiveness of Online and Face-to-Face Instruction. American Journal of Distance Education, 16(2): 99-113.
Breanna's References (Pros of Pure Online Learning, Statistics, The Big Picture)
Castaneda, R. 2008. The impact of computer-based simulation within an instructional sequence on learner performance in a Web-based environment. PhD diss., Arizona State University, Tempe.

Grant, L.K., and M. Courtoreille. 2007. Comparison of fixed-item and response-sensitive versions of an online tutorial. Psychological Record 57(2): 265-72.

Hilbelink, A.J. 2007. The effectiveness and user perception of 3-dimensional digital human anatomy in an online undergraduate anatomy laboratory. PhD diss., University of South Florida, Orlando.

Long, M., and H. Jennings, 2005. “Does it work?”: The impact of technology and professional development on student achievement. Calverton, Md.: Macro International.

Nguyen, F. 2007. The effect of an electronic performance support system and training as performance interventions. PhD diss., Arizona State University, Tempe.

Picciano, A.G., and J. Seaman. 2009. K-12 online learning: A 2008 follow-up of the survey of U.S. school district administrators. Boston: Sloan Consortium. __ Accessed 10-7-2011

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Zhang, D. 2005. Interactive multimedia-based e-learning: A study of effectiveness. American Journal of Distance Education 19(3): 149-62.

Zhang, D., L. Zhou, R. O. Briggs, and J.F. Nunamaker, Jr. 2006. Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness. Information and Management 43(1): 15-27.

Matt's References (Spectrum of Blended Learning; Pros of Blended Online Learning)
Evergreen Education Group. 2010. Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: an annual review of policy and practice. Evergreen Education
Group, Evergreen, Colorado.

Lee, S., S. Srinivasan, T. Trail, D. Lewis, and S. Lopez. 2011. Examining the relationship among student perception of support, course satisfaction, and learning outcomes in online learning. Internet and Higher Education, 14, 158-163.
Doering, A., C. Miller, and G. Veletsianos. Adventure learning: educational, social, and technological affordances for collaborative hybrid distance education. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3). 249-269.
Charles' References (Cons of Blended Online Learning)
Clardy, Alan. (2009-12). Distant, On-line Education: Effects, Principles and Practices.

Anstine, J., & M. Skidmore. (2005). A Small Sample Study of Traditional and Online Courses with Sample Selection Adjustment. Journal of Economic Education, 36(2): 107-127.

Sethy, Satya Sundar. (2008). Distance Education in the Age of Globalization: An Overwhelming Desire towards Blended Learning Online, Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 9(3): 29-44.

Friday, September 23, 2011
The whole group met for 1.5 hours. During this time, we created a document in Google Docs outlining the presentation and we assigned each group member a portion of the presentation to complete further research on.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011
Breanna, Matt, and Kaitlyn met for 1.5 hours. During this time, we finalized the powerpoint slides and did a quick run through of the presentation to make sure all the essential information was covered.