The results of a new Meta-Analysis & Review of Online Studies released June 26th 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education suggests that online learning at a higher education level, is more effective than face to face learning.
"The overall finding of the meta-analysis is that classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction." (pg.18)
Students in the study completed the same courses online and under face to face instruction and while online learning proved highly successful, the most effective of all was a "blended learning" solution combining elements of both online and face to face. Three factors emerged as variables in the contrasting types of learning: time, pedagogy and curriculum.
'Time' was one reason why online learning proves to be so successful, because it allows for students to go at their own pace instead of one pace for the whole group. The report states: "Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning" (xv).
Another pattern that emerged was that video and quizzes in online learning did not seem to increase learning effectiveness. However, more interactive media and objects where the student was in the driver seat did: "Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection." (xvi)
There are far too many interesting findings for me to list here, but for a nice summary of the meta-analysis take a look at Scott Jaschik's article The Evidence on Online Education, or click here for the full 93-page report.