Media reports misrepresent online learning study (again)

One of the things that we intend to do with this blog is point out misleading or incorrect media reports, studies, stories, etc. We have no doubt that this task alone will keep us busy. One example is a study that came out months ago, and was so poorly reported that I've been waiting for our blog to come online so I could write about it.

A headline and lead-in from this study:

Rushing Too Fast to Online Learning? Outcomes of Internet Versus Face-to-Face Instruction

"A combination of fiscal constraints and improvements in technology has led to an increased reliance on online classes of all types -- many of which use Internet versions of traditional, live lectures. Now a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) raises questions about that fast-growing trend in higher education.

"Online instruction may be more economical to deliver than live instruction, but there is no free lunch," said David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and primary author of the NBER working paper released this month. "Simply putting traditional courses online could have negative consequences, especially for lower-performing and language minority students."

The articles then go on to explain that the study found that outcomes were worse for the students in the "online" courses.

The problem? The courses weren't online by any reasonable definition. The study compared students watching live, face-to-face lectures with students seeing the same lectures online.

Does anyone in online learning think an online course should consist of videotaped lectures that are available online?

My guess is that the answer is no, but I cringe at the thought of the ways that study has likely been used--and will likely be used in the future.

I'm still undecided as to whether this was a poor study or whether it was simply poorly reported by the media.