My friend Tom Carey and David Trick have complied an excellent summary report on costs and benefits of online education, with context and recommendations for the Ontario public higher education system in mind.

The report was described by Tom as  ” 1/3 research report, 1/3 a teachable moment for faculty and academic leaders, and 1/3 a call to collective action”  I think it strikes near the bull’s eye on all three targets.

The report: Carey, T., & Trick, D. (2013). How Online Learning Affects Productivity, Cost and Quality in Higher Education: An Environmental Scan and Review of the Literature. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. 

Covers the recent reviews and meta analysis on both costs and effectiveness of online teaching and online assessment. As expected, it continued the persistent whine for more empirical data.  We really don’t have even a fraction of the research funding enjoyed by medical and drug communities and thus educational studies are too limited, too few and often flawed.  But nonetheless the data continues to show the “no significant difference” results overall. The report  highlights that online learning does not work equally well with all types of content and learners (what mode does?) and notes that it is especially useful for highly motivated students. Those with educational disadvantages and heavy extra time and family commitments may well do better in teacher paced and supported F2F contexts.

The study concludes with wide ranging recommendations. These take aim at the high costs of independent universities each making their own competitive decisions, and no economy of scale beyond the institutions domain. In part this is due to government policy to pay for instruction, thus a disincentive to grant equivalent credit for course credits obtained at other schools. One solution proposed in the report is to gain some centralized economy of scale by producing a number of high quality courses that will be accepted for credit at all Ontario universities. This makes sense, but likely not welcomed initiative by independent minded College presidents nor faculty associations.

Time will tell, if this remains yet another, in the long list of recommendations for using technological innovations as catalyst to necessary system reform in Canada. I hope this one makes the difference