What Does Research Show About The Effectiveness Of Online Learning

Online learning is gaining greater acceptance by states and businesses. But should we trust online learning researchers?

When the free to use learning platform Udemy launched its research arm, Udemy Research, four years ago, it aimed to see how it could help change the way learners learn and keep learning—in part by leveraging the cachet of online learning.

Among its accomplishments, the website has now developed over 1,100 studies in areas ranging from entrepreneurship to neuroscience to how people heal traumatic brain injuries. The results are relevant to everyone from college freshmen to advanced medical students.

However, one thing that members of the analytics team have realized in their research work—particularly when it comes to online learning—is that students don’t tend to learn as much in e-learning as they are taught in the classroom.

Udemy, which has 50 million registered learners from more than 200 countries and operates free or low-cost courses on different topics, collects more than 100 million data points every month by way of anonymous user logs, APIs and app experiences.

“Our students learn more online in the context of setting goals for themselves and considering priorities,” says Udemy Manager of Research and Analytics Brent Norwood.

Learnings Can Influence Technology & Business Decisions

The logistics of online learning can be challenging for people who are not as comfortable with technology and learning. In order to get the most out of online learning, it is imperative to listen to the learners and learn from them. That’s why the analytics team at Udemy invests in the type of technology, formats and products that can help them effectively serve their students and retain the best students, as well as avoid the bad.

One of its findings is that the learner conversation can help ensure that online learning experiences are more effective for learners, both individuals and businesses. In fact, recent research findings from a Udemy study are instructive of the impact that online learning can have on businesses looking to better engage a customer base.

What Is It?

When you buy into an online learning platform, such as Udemy’s, you typically can get some information on the content being presented, but the experiment is still ongoing when it comes to how and what you can do with the information. By that, I mean you can’t just convert the data from online learning to traditional learner behavior.

However, “there are some telltale signs in the product and platform, and we knew that we could actually model user behaviors after examining data from users,” says Udemy Staff Scientist and PhD candidate Nicholas Gromme.

Gromme and his team published a paper, titled “Rewarding Online Learning Impacts Online Education Experience,” which analyzed user satisfaction using UI design and included the “first-ever data on so-called intrinsic motivations,” of which they identified 559 attributes.

Based on this, the researchers determined that “rewarding online learning,” the concept used in their study, was the most effective way to motivate learners to participate in online learning. For example, making it a paid subscription option or by providing incentives based on perceived engagement of users would also help to motivate learners to advance in their studies.

They also found that these targeted rewards would help to increase learner engagement, especially compared to those without more targeted rewards.

So what is the take away from Udemy’s research? It is that students are not as motivated by online learning in a way that they are in the classroom. So while it is important to have a great learning experience at every step of the journey, the researchers understand that it is imperative to focus on what learners care about in their learning and what they want to learn so they can move them closer to the goals they have set in terms of education and career.

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