Does online education really work? Well no, actually it doesn’t. At least not in the way people have been talking about it.

Back in June the Department of Education released a report about online learning. Researchers found “that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

Interesting news, right? Many journalists and for-profit, online colleges seized upon this new paper as evidence that, as they’d long suspected, online education was a great form of instruction. “The study lends credence to a belief that University of Phoenix administrators and faculty have long held: Online education can be just as effective as on-site education,” said the University of Phoenix.

Not so fast, say researchers at Columbia University. Shanna Smith Jaggars and Thomas Bailey of the Community College Research Center at Columbia’s Teachers College published a new report indicating that the truth about online education is more complicated. According to their research:

This finding does not hold, however, for the studies included in the meta-analysis that pertain to fully online, semester-length college courses; among these studies, there is no trend in favor of the online course mode. Therefore, while advocates argue that online learning is a promising means to increase access to college and to improve student progression through higher education programs, the Department of Education report does not present evidence that fully online delivery produces superior learning outcomes for typical college courses, particularly among low-income and academically underprepared students.

Perhaps some element of internet-based instruction is effective, but there actually isn’t any evidence that students taking an entirely online course “performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” In fact, according to Jaggars and Bailey, some evidence indicates that “online learning may even undercut progression among low-income and academically underprepared students.” [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer