Literature

Bacow, Lawrence S., et al. “Barriers to adoption of online learning systems in US higher education.” New York, NY: Ithaka S+

Ithaka S+R is a strategic consulting and research service provided by ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.

This Ithaka S+R report summarizes the lessons learned regarding online learning, and the main challenges for adoption of online learning systems. It also provides directions for future research and development in the field. The authors make two specific recommendations to improve outcomes: “open, shared data on student learning and performance tracked through interactive online learning systems,” and “investment in the creation of sustainable and customizable platforms for delivering interactive online learning instruction.”


Bowen, William G., et al. “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from a Six‐Campus Randomized Trial.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 33.1 (2014): 94-111.

This second report by Ithaka S+R shares the results of a study designed to compare traditional face-to-face classroom experience to interactive online learning, using a rigorous quantitative methodology. The online experience consist of a hybrid course with “prototype machine-guided mode of instruction” developed at Carnegie Mellon University and a face-to-face meeting every week.

An introductory statistics course was offered to students in six different public institutions. The study looked at students’ learning outcomes (mastery of course content, completion rates, and time-to-degree); effectiveness for minority and low-socioeconomic-status students; and effectiveness for well and not-so-well prepared students. The results showed comparable learning outcomes for this basic course, with a “promise of cost savings and productivity gains over time.”


Ho, Andrew D., et al. “HarvardX and MITx: Two Years of Open Online Courses Fall 2012-2014”

We find that growth in participants has been steady but not exponential; participation in repeat courses declines but stabilizes; a whopping 39% self-identify as teachers; participation is huge in CS but certification twice as high in humanities versus STEM; sequenced modules are very promising; and paid, ID verified certificates raise certification rates to 59%.

In addition, many of the MITx courses on edX are producing dividends for experimental efforts with online learning on campus, notably with 8.02 TEAL+x and 3.091, with more in progress. At both institutions, these open online course efforts have effectively called many longstanding features of residential courses into question, including the rigidity of the semester schedule, the lengthy periods between assignment submission and feedback, and the rarity of sharing syllabi, lecture notes, lesson plans, assessments, and rubrics across faculty teaching common courses.


Ito, Mizuko, et al. “Connected learning: An agenda for research and design.” Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013.

“This report is a synthesis of ongoing research, design, and implementation of an approach to education called Connected Learning.” Connected learning happens as a young person follows his passion and interest with the support of a network of peers and mentors, and this results in positive academic outcomes and successful career paths.

The report includes concrete evidence on the use of new media to support connected learning, recommendations for the design and implementation of successful connected learning environments, and for the evaluation of its impact.


Jaggars, Shanna Smith. “Choosing between online and face-to-face courses: Community college student voices.” American Journal of Distance Education 28.1 (2014): 27-38.

This qualitative study at two community colleges in Virginia presents the reflections from students regarding their experience and preferences when making decisions about online vs. face-to-face learning. Though most of the community college students in the study reported that online courses offered more flexibility to manage time and busy schedules, they preferred to “take only “easy” academic subjects online and “difficult” or “important” subjects face-to-face.” The reduced sense of instructor and peer presence influenced those decisions.

This study offers insights that could potentially help college administrators introduce pedagogical improvements to existing online and face-to-face offerings, and “continue to provide ample face-to-face sections of courses for those students who prefer them.”


Lovett, Marsha, Oded Meyer, and Candace Thille. “JIME-The open learning initiative: Measuring the effectiveness of the OLI statistics course in accelerating student learning.” Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2008.1 (2008): Art-13.

This report incorporates the results of several learning effectiveness studies around the OLI Statistics course, which were conducted during Fall 2005, Spring 2006, and Spring 2007. It concludes that students in the OLI-Statistics course learned a full semester’s worth of material in half the time than the students who participated in the traditional instruction.

During the first two studies, “in-class exam scores showed no significant difference between students in the stand-alone OLI-Statistics course and students in the traditional instructor-led course”. Alternatively, during the Spring 2007 study, the researchers introduced an accelerated learning mode, expecting students to learn the same amount of material in a “significantly shorter period of time” with equal learning gains.


Means, Barbara, Marianne Bakia, and Robert Murphy. Learning online: What research tells us about whether, when and how. Routledge, 2014.

This book provides a summary of different types of online learning technologies and its application, both in informal and formal settings (K-12 and higher education.) It focuses primarily on online learning technologies, such as MOOCs, multi-player games, learning analytics, and adaptive online practice environments; and includes information about their design, implementation and context of use.

The authors make use of available evidence about effective learning to highlight policy implications for use and implementation of online learning, and finish with a call for a collaborative research effort among different stakeholders that would generate new research and evidence around effective practices.


President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Letter Report on Education Technology. (December, 2013).

PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President. PCAST makes policy recommendations in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people.

This report discusses the state of Massive Open Online Courses in the US and their potential to reduce costs of education, improve quality, adapt the educational experience to individual students’ learning styles and needs, and enhance workforce preparation and lifelong learning.

It concludes three policy recommendations: 1) “let market forces decide which innovations in online teaching and learning are best”; 2) “encourage accrediting bodies to be flexible in response to educational innovation”; and 3) “support research and the sharing of results on effective teaching and learning.”


Twigg, Carol A. “The Math Emporium: Higher Education’s Silver Bullet.”Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 43.3 (2011): 25-34.

“The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides leadership in using information technology to redesign learning environments to produce better learning outcomes for students at a reduced cost to the institution.”

This article describes a lab-format introductory math course and its effect on student achievement. Drawing on the extensive work done with a sizeable number of students, faculty and institutions, NCAT presents lessons learned from their efforts to improve students’ achievements in mathematics. The underlying premise is that students learn math by doing math, not by listening to someone talk about doing math and the key elements of success are: interactive computer software, personalized on-demand assistance, and mandatory student participation.


Xu, Di, and Shanna Smith Jaggars. “The impact of online learning on students’ course outcomes: Evidence from a large community and technical college system.” Economics of Education Review 37 (2013): 46-57.

This article presents the results of a study of the impact that online versus face-to-face “course delivery” have on student performance, using data from 34 community and technical colleges in the state of Washington.

The analysis of the data provides evidence of significant negative impact of online learning in both retention and grade. These results are in disagreement with previous studies that claim “no significant difference between online and face-to-face student outcomes—at least within the community college setting.” The authors make recommendations for further study of impact and for improvement of online courses before decisions to extend online offerings are made in the future.