Reflecting on U.S. Department of Education, Mete-analysis and review of online learning

I question the legitimacy of this study in the realm of K-12 education simply since they weren’t strongly represented in the study. Of the 99 studies only 9 represented k-12 and of those 4 were eliminated making only 5 studies represented in the study. Using five studies to represent 56.9 million students I don’t believe is adequate to make any decisive decision. As a kindergarten teacher who formally taught 2nd grade and student taught in fourth grade, the academic, social and emotional needs of these students vary greatly. Combine this with the idea that the needs and skills of kindergarteners and 12 graders are extreme. That is approximately 14 years difference in mental and emotional development. With this in mind, and the fact that much of the data is based on higher education I feel that it is questionable whether the same is results are applicable for k-12 education.  I am not completely disregarding the study and do believe it has validity. However, I do wonder if the age of the learner would impact it.

Page iv of the Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning  states:

“The goal of the study as a whole is to provide policy-makers, administrators and educators with research-based guidance about how to implement online learning for K–12 education and teacher preparation.”

I worry that there is the potential to take information that isn’t consistently linked to the appropriate age group and to make assumptions that it will work for all ages. If we look at the higher education populations needs, they do differ in ways from those of our younger students.

Another concern I have with the study was that “many of the reviewed studies did not indicate (a) whether or not the online instructor had received training in the method of instruction, (b) rates of attrition from the contrasting conditions and (c) contamination between conditions (p. 27). The one that worries me is the list is training. I know from experience that k-12 teachers are not always fully trained. We are going through this now. Our main virtual teacher has no training in the platform and only one staff member has been fully trained, two more of us received 3 hours of rushed training, and the rest of the staff have six hours of videos to watch on their own time to learn how to get ready in case of a school closure.  There will be distinct differences in how much training teachers sit down and do and in return their level of understanding of how to implement the program will affect their students. This also tie into the second point. If we are in the same position next year, who will train the new teachers? Will the videos still be available?  I can tell you from experience that I was expected to know programs I was never trained in as a new teacher and they weren’t providing any trainings that year.

Page 18 of the analysis explains that classes with an online learning component, either fully online or in a blended learning model have stronger student learning outcomes. I’m slightly surprised by this but not shocked. I believe that education has evolved on the online side but has stayed relatively the same on the brick and mortar side, in some cases. Instructors have learned how to adapt what is considered to be good teaching methods and applied them to their online learning platforms to allow for greater flexibility and the opportunity for students to expand their learning in ways that can be challenging in a classroom.

One of the benefits to online learning that was included for making it successful was when it was asynchronous. This is a great feature to online learning and honestly one of the reasons I can complete my degree. This is true for many adults and college students who may have to work or who have families. Young students however do better with  routine and structure and would be reliant on an adult to provide that routine for them. This doesn’t mean that the family must run online school from 8-3. Like a traditional day, it just suggests that a family would need to have a system in place that allows for a sense of structure in the student’s day to accommodate that need. Were as an adult learner would potentially be working on materials inconsistently when they have time or when they get a burst of motivation. Yes asynchronous learning is still applicable to the k-12 learner and would be more beneficial to the student because the family schedule may not accommodate a synchronous schedule. Unlike an adult the youngest of our k-12 students are dependent on the adults in their life to enforce some type of routine for learning even if learning is asynchronous.

My Final Ponderings

I’m not entirely surprised that a blended learning approach is somewhat better than face to face learning for a few reasons. (1) people have an opportunity to explore content at their own pace and (sometimes) at their convenience, (2) many people are becoming more comfortable working on the online platform at least in certain contexts such as looking up topics of interest, (3) more people are having access to technology, even if they are using public spaces like the library when needed. All in all I feel like the results in many of the categories were inconclusive since had a combination of results. For example, on page 38 comparing blended and online learning of the studies seven found no significant difference, two leaned in favor of online only and one in favor of blended. It also acknowledged that there were variations within the set-up of the instruction. This has me wondering if the presentation of the online materials is what determines its success. From personal experience I can tell you that the set-up of a class influences my personal learning in many aspects, from how I feel about the class to how much time and effort I put into the class. There were many positive things that were pointed out that made a successful online class. Interactive media was beneficial while simply adding a media element made no difference on the learner (p.40). Active learning also had a positive influence on the results of online learning, as did using elaborative questions. All of these in my mind are just good teaching practices. This though has made me wonder, are they comparing a teacher with affective in person teaching methods against an instructor with affective online teaching method or is there a discrepancy in the teaching methodologies that could influence the results?

For me it all comes back to: Is this fundamentally a solid representation of which is better? I suppose on paper one can argue yes, the numbers prove it. In my mind I’m still a bit skeptical of its accuracy of this analysis when applied to k-12 education. All the positives are simply good teaching practices and what I would expect an affective teacher to be doing regardless of how they are teaching. This doesn’t mean I believe that you can’t have a productive online class in the k-12 setting. I argue that it is possible, you simply must have it executed in a well thought out manner.

I also realize I’m somewhat stuck in comparing in my mind face to face vs. online, whereas the meta-analysis is also looking at blended learning. I feel that I would be opening another whole ocean of thoughts on that topic so I save those thoughts for another day.


Bustamante, Jaleesa. (2019, June 9). K-12 School Enrollment & Student Population Statistics.

Means, Barbara & Toyama, Yukie & Murphy, Robert & Bakia, Marianne & Jones, Karla & Planning, Evaluation. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. US Department of Education.

The Importance of Routine in Childhood.  Melbourne Child Psychology. Retrieved September 12, 2020.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *