The Effectiveness of Online and Blended Learning: A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature

Mar. 01, 2013

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 115, No. 3, March 2013, p. 1-47.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This meta-analysis was conducted to examine the effectiveness of both purely online and blended versions of online learning as compared with traditional face-to-face learning.
Four research questions guided the study design and analysis:
1. How does the effectiveness of online learning compare with that of face-to-face instruction?
2. Does supplementing face-to-face instruction with online instruction (i.e., blended instruction) enhance learning?
3. What practices are associated with more effective online learning?
4. What conditions influence the effectiveness of online learning?

The meta-analysis was conducted on 50 effects found in 45 studies contrasting a fully or partially online condition with a fully face-to-face instructional condition.
The types of learners in these studies were about evenly split between students in college or earlier years of education and learners in graduate programs or professional training.
The meta-analysis corpus consisted of
(1) experimental studies using random assignment and
(2) quasi-experiments with statistical control for preexisting group differences.

An effect size was calculated or estimated for each contrast, and average effect sizes
were computed for fully online learning and for blended learning.
A coding scheme was applied to classify each study in terms of a set of conditions, practices, and methodological variables.


This meta-analysis demonstrated that purely online learning has been equivalent to face-to-face instruction in effectiveness, and blended approaches have been more effective than instruction offered entirely in face-to-face mode.
Studies using blended learning tended also to involve more learning time, additional instructional resources, and course elements that encourage interactions among learners.

These findings support redesigning instruction to incorporate additional learning opportunities online while retaining elements of face-to-face instruction.
The positive findings with respect to blended learning approaches documented in the meta-analysis provide justification for the investment in the development of blended courses.

Online learning conditions produced better outcomes than face-to-face learning alone, regardless of whether these instructional practices were used.
The implication here is that the field does not yet have a set of instructional design principles sufficiently powerful to yield consistent advantage.

Finally, the examination of the influence of study method variables found that effect sizes did not vary significantly with study sample size or with type of design.
It is reassuring to note that, on average, online learning produced better student learning outcomes than face-to-face instruction in those studies with random-assignment experimental designs and in those studies with the largest sample sizes.

Updated: Dec. 10, 2014