New DOE Study: On-Line Learning Beats the Classroom Kind

The Dept. of Education has just released a study finding that (predominantly college-aged or older) students learn significantly more if their lessons occur at least partly on-line, than if they rack up seat-time exclusively in conventional classrooms (HT: Matt Ladner).

This makes sense. On-line learning usually allows students to progress at their own pace, so as soon as the student’s ready to move on to the next stage, she can. There’s no falling behind the rest of the class, or doodling in your notebook while you wait for them to catch up. So, like performance-based grouping and one-on-one instruction, it’s more efficient than the status quo, which lumps together students by age regardless of their knowledge or performance.

The great irony of this report is that it bears the name, in its frontmatter, of one Arne Duncan, secretary of education. Secretary Duncan had this to say shortly after taking office back in February: “If we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America.”

While the evidence presented by his own Department shows that greater student achievement comes from more individually customized on-line learning, Duncan’s diametrically opposed priority is to homogenize education so that every 10 year old is being taught the same things at the same time.

Fortunately, short of actually outlawing or invasively regulating on-line learning, there’s nothing that anyone can do to stop it from gradually displacing the old model, particularly for high school and older students.