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A Comparison of Online Instructional Strategies Across Key Student Outcomes


The purpose of this study is to compare student outcomes associated with alternate strategies of delivering online instruction in higher education. More so than traditional classroom education, different strategies for online education may vary widely in format and approach. To date, most research pertaining to online education has focused on comparisons between online and traditional classroom instruction, with few studies dedicated to comparing different strategies of online education. This makes it difficult for educators to effectively choose between the many diverse options for structuring their online programs and courses. This study begins the process of addressing this issue by investigating whether different strategies of online instruction may have variable effects upon several key student outcomes.

To this end, this study conducted an experiment using a single lesson in which the strategy of instruction varied across treatment groups while other key variables: the instructor, content, materials, and timeframe were all held constant. The experiment was conducted with the help of 425 undergraduate student volunteers who were randomly assigned among five treatment groups. Each group was exposed to a different instructional strategy: (1) traditional classroom instruction for control, (2) hybrid, or blended, instruction (3) synchronous instruction through videoconference, (4) asynchronous instruction with pre-recorded video, and (5) asynchronous instruction with text and slides. The effects of these different instructional strategies were evaluated using measures of the participants' comprehension, engagement, satisfaction, and lesson completion rates.

In terms of comprehension and satisfaction, the classroom and hybrid groups had the highest average scores. Conversely, the two asynchronous online groups scored highest on rates of participation, comment quality scores, and lesson completion. The synchronous online group scored the lowest on the assessment of comprehension and on the average quality of discussion comments, but was significantly above the two asynchronous groups on several measures of satisfaction. These variable results suggest that there is no one "best" instructional strategy for maximizing all student outcomes, but that differences in the instructional strategies' effects upon student outcomes do exist. Hence, the most effective strategy depends heavily on context and upon which student outcomes the educator is seeking to maximize.

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