4 Quality Learning Factors that Matter More than Delivery Mode
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Time after time one hears the question, "But is online learning as effective as face-to-face?" Decades of research say the delivery type is not what matters most and that online learning is as effective as face-to-face so long as other quality considerations are addressed. But that does not mean it is okay to overwhelm students with a million types of technology either.
What Exactly is Quality?
Whether you use the age old invention of a chalk board, or you use an interactive white board, or you use a stick in the sand, you will see that one tool is not going to better facilitate student learning over the other. If you teach face-to-face vs. online, one or the other delivery type isn't better or worse. Instead it is many other factors that most influence student achievement and quality learning.
Here are four factors (though there are many more than this), with a short discussion of each:
Time Spent Studying: many studies show that the more a student studies, the better they do. Seems intuitive, certainly. Ultimately no matter how exciting you make the educational materials, no matter the amazing course design and the cool tools, it doesn't matter a jot if the student doesn't take the time to review the content and study it. Teaching and learning is a two-way street. I see so much pressure on teachers to "make education exciting" and to "meet standards". However, it is a 50-50 relationship. The student has their part too. A student will ultimately get out of education equal to the effort they put into it.
Engaging Learning Materials: The quality of the learning materials will influence how engaged the students are, and higher engagement leads to more time spent studying, and you get the drift - that leads to higher student achievement. However, this doesn't have to be fancy bells and whistles technology to do this. It can be a very well designed face-to-face lesson on paper, or it can be an interactive video online. There are many ways to achieve student engagement with the learning materials.
High Quality Curriculum Design: Some teachers fill their course with lessons and fluff that don't ultimately actually apply directly to the learning goals. Filler is filler. High quality curriculum designed backward from the learning goals to specify that all learning content is applicable to the students learning needs leads to meaningful learning experiences that engage students.
Quality Instructor: You have all had that boring, mono-tone Ferris Beuller's Day Off type of instructor (there, now my generation is clear). You know the one. You were asleep by minute 2 of the course. Nothing beats a quality instructor with a solid grounding of expertise in the field and who can really support students learning. They can inspire. They can clarify. They can push student learning to new levels. They can share nuggets of wisdom in the field one cannot get in a book. A bad teacher means students care less and study less. A great teachers motivates students, and motivated students are inspired to achieve.
All of these factors can be used in tandem with technology choices that support student learning - but never fail to understand that it isn't the technology (or lack there of) that is creating higher student achievement or detracting from it.
Instead, it is factors such as these (quality materials, quality curriculum, quality teaching, quality design, quality time) that support higher student achievement. You could have all the latest cool, fun, and interactive technology in the world in your course, but if the curriculum design is poor, the content design is poor the pedagogical methods are poorly executed, the content doesn't synergies well with the technology tools chosen, and the instructor isn't present or not actually knowledgeable in their field, then students won't learn as much as if they had the inverse of these things. This truth applies to face-to-face learning too : No amount of bells and whistles replaces quality content and instruction.
Faculty should be making sound pedagogically-driven technology choices. Do not use technology just for the sake of using it. Consider, I might have a hammer, a nail gun, a screw driver, and a wrench, but if I don't know how and when to use each, the best way and time to use each, then that house I build probably isn't going to be very stable. I need to choose the right tool, for the right job.
Technology in education is the same. Choose the right technology for the right learning need, to enhance student learning approaches, and avoid overloading the students with so many technology types in a course that they spend more time learning about the technology than the content of the course. Technology in a course should run seamlessly in the background for students, just like the lights in a classroom would.
Remember this final take-home message: it isn't the technology used that will support better student learning. It is HOW the technology is used. So make smart-technology choices in curriculum development that will enhance student learning, not detract from it.
Resources for further reading:
Learning from Media, by Richard E. Clark (ed), http://www.infoagepub.com/products/Learning-From-Media-second-edition
The No Significant Difference Phenomena, by by Thomas L. Russell. http://www.nosignificantdifference.org/