Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learning Outcomes: Face-to-Face vs Online #3

Some blog followers might be interested in a recent post “Learning Outcomes: Face-to-Face vs Online #3” [Hake (2011)]. The abstract reads:


ABSTRACT: In an earlier post, “Learning Outcomes: Face-to-Face vs Online,” I responded to a question posed by STLHE-L’s Martin Rosenzweig: “Does anyone know of any published studies comparing online to face-to-face instruction with regards to learning outcomes?” I wrote: “As far as I know the answer is ‘NO.’ The reason is [as pointed out in ‘Can Distance and Classroom Learning Be Increased?’ (Hake, 2008a)] ‘scholars of teaching and learning continue to rely on low-resolution gauges of students’ learning.’ ”

In response, several discussion-list subscribers called attention to “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies” [USDE (2009)] at, of which I had been unaware.

In my opinion, the USDE (2009) study is yet another example of reliance on low-resolution gauges of students’ learning. On pages 11-12 it is stated that examples of learning outcome measures included: (a) scores on standardized tests, (b) scores on researcher-created assessments, (c) grades/scores on teacher-created assessments (e.g., assignments, midterm/final exams), and (d) grades or grade point averages.

But among lessons of the physics education research effort [Hake (2002)] are that: (1) “c” and “d” are *invalid* measures of students' *higher-order* learning; and (2) analyses of “a” and “b” are best carried out in terms of the course average *normalized* gain [g], ignored in USDE (2009).

Furthermore, on page 18 of the USDE report states: “The mean effect size for all 50 contrasts of online vs face-to-face instruction was +0.20.”

Contrast the above with the effect size d = +2.43 for the superiority of [[g]] (the average of the course average [g]) for 48 face-to-face “interactive engagement” physics courses vs 14 face-to-face “traditional”introductory physics courses [Hake (1998a,b; 2002; 2008b)].

I suspect that similar large effect sizes would be found for the superiority of online “interactive engagement” courses vs online “traditional” courses.

In my opinion it makes little sense to meta-analyze online vs face-to-face instruction without taking into account the relatively large effects on higher-order learning of “interactive-engagement” vs “traditional” instruction.


To access the complete 20 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University

Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The


President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which Recognize the

Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)>

“Physics educators have led the way in developing and using objective tests to compare student learning gains in different types of courses, and chemists, biologists, and others are now developing similar instruments. These tests provide convincing evidence that students assimilate new knowledge more effectively incourses including active, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning, assisted by information technology, than in traditional courses.”

Wood & Gentile (2003)

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by and accessed on 05 Jan 2010.

Hake, R.R. 2002. “Lessons from the physics education reform effort,” Ecology and Society 5(2): 28; online at

Hake, R.R. 2008a. “Can Distance and Classroom Learning Be Increased?” IJ-SoTL 2(1): January; online at

Hake, R.R. 2011. “Learning Outcomes: Face-to-Face vs Online #3,” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 5 Jan 2011 13:54:14 -0800 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to various discussion lists.

Wood, W.B. & J.M. Gentile. 2003. “Teaching in a research context,”
Science 302: 1510; 28 November; online to subscribers at . A summary is online for all at

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