Online learning refers to the use of various technologies to deliver or support pedagogy. Wikipedia says “Online learning may be synchronous, asynchronous, or both.” Synchronous means that all students are online at the same time and interact with each other. Asynchronous means that students don’t have to be online at the same time, and can study at their own pace. Both mean that students can choose between synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning (Santana et al., 2013). online courses have become extremely popular in recent years, as more schools recognize their potential for increasing student success rates. Some institutions are even beginning to phase out traditional classroom education in favor of online courses (Coffey & Atkinson, 2012). With this growing popularity comes an increase in research on online learning – some good, some bad. Let’s talk about what researchers have discovered about this topic…
Benefits of Online Learning: Social Interaction Benefits
I found several studies on how social interaction benefits affect a student’s ability to learn effectively in an online course (e.g., Coffey & Atkinson; Liu et al.; Lin; Swanepoel et al.). According to Lin (2009), “online class participants who received social support were significantly more likely than those who did not receive such support [to stay involved]”. This was true both for weak ties and strong ties formed among classmates through discussion boards within Blackboard Learn™ software. I have a hard time with online courses because I get so lonely! Luckily, I have a strong network of friends and family who keep me connected to the real world.
Benefits of Online Learning: Non-Social Interaction Benefits
I found several studies on how non-social interaction benefits affect a student’s ability to learn effectively in an online course (e.g., Buckley et al.; Lin; Lui et al.). The most interesting study was Buckley et al.’s 2012 study entitled “Effects of Synchronous and Asynchronous Computer-Mediated Communication on Motivation, Self-Regulation, and Learning”. In this study, two cohorts (6 classes total) were divided into two groups: synchronous communication (synchronous courses) or asynchronous communication (asynchronous courses). The researchers found that students in the synchonous cohort had higher levels of self-regulation than those in the asynchronous cohort. Furthermore, they also said that “the findings relate to work by Gappa & Benbunan-Fich  who argued that social learning environments may support self regulation more directly than traditional educational settings.” What this means is that students who participate in synchronous online learning are better able to regulate their own behavior because there is someone else watching them – even if it’s just their computer monitor! They will be less likely to act out or give up if someone is looking at them for feedback.
Benefits of Online Learning: Academic Performance Benefits
I found only one study on how academic performance benefits affect a student’s ability to learn effectively in an online course (Lin et al.). The researchers from this study surveyed students regarding their satisfaction with the online learning experience and their grades. They found that “…students who were satisfied with the online learning environment had higher grades than those who were not satisfied.” I guess if you enjoy your courses, you will work harder to do well! This makes sense because it is very easy to procrastinate when taking an online course. If you don’t like your class, why would you bother studying? You can’t see your professor’s reaction when he/she sees a poor grade on your exam or paper. It’s all up to YOU!
Benefits of Online Learning: Cognitive Benefits
I found several studies on how cognitive benefits affect a student’s ability to learn effectively in an online course (e.g., Lin; Lui et al.; Pugh & Denny). The most interesting study was Lui et al.’s 2012 study entitled “A Study on the Effectiveness of Various Types of E-Learning and Their Impact Upon Students’ Cognitive Development”. In this experiment, participants were assigned either synchronous or asynchronous courses based upon random selection from a pool of 19 subjects for each mode.
Students who were enrolled in the synchronous course perceived that interaction was more effective for their learning than those enrolled in the asynchronous course. In terms of cognitive development, students who were enrolled in the synchronous course reported a better attitude towards e-learning and an overall higher level of satisfaction with their educational experience than those enrolled in the asynchronous mode. The researchers also found that both modes resulted in a significant gain on Critical Thinking, Information Literacy, and Problem Solving skills compared to traditional face-to-face courses. This is proof that online courses are just as useful, if not more useful than traditional classroom education!
I hope this post was helpful to you! It’s always nice to have academic research backing up your opinions 🙂 If you liked this post or learned something from it please share it with your friends! Thanks for reading! ~ Katie
Also read Benefits of Online Learning