Over the past few years, online learning courses have grown exponentially as students eye cost and convenience. But questions have always lingered over the effectiveness of online learning (or e-learning). After all, if students have easy access to assignment answers (whether through search engines or in-built mechanisms), they may be tempted to game the system without achieving meaningful learning.

Fortunately, a recent study presented at the conference of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) suggests otherwise. California researchers found that most students genuinely try to answer online assignment questions even when the answers can be revealed in a simple click of a button.

According to Inside Higher Ed, researchers assigned a set of short-answer questions to students, but allowed them to reveal the correct answer by clicking “Show answer.” Students using that method to answer questions were not penalized in any way.

Researchers then reviewed the responses of 550 students in four classes – one at a four-year public research university, another at a four-year public teaching college, and two more at community colleges. The results were encouraging for the advocates of online learning.

Researchers said they “found that 89% of students earnestly attempted 60%-100% of questions, with 73% earnestly attempting 80%-100%.” Earnest attempts mean not clicking the “Show answer” button.

They concluded that “students will take advantage of a well-designed learning opportunity rather than just quickly earning points.”

Previous studies on online learning have often to produced mixed results, but tend to lean towards more positive outcomes. A US Department of Education study found that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

That may be great news for those concerned about rising tuition fees and costs of living around the globe, as well as working professionals looking for convenient ways to further their education. Studies like these are likely to accelerate the growth of education beyond merely brick and mortar classes.

Image via Flickr.

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