Cisco has conducted a meta-study of education technology
entitled “Technology in Schools: What the
Research Says." Produced by Cisco
Systems and the Metiri Group, the report summarizes general trends and
representative studies in areas such as television and video use, calculators,
engagement devices such as interactive whiteboards, portable or handheld
devices, virtual learning, in-school computing, and one-to-one
computing. There are several parts of the report that touch on the educational impact of virtual learning environments.
There are two relevant sections dealing with virtual
learning environments. Here’s a section on “virtual learning” indicating that
students performed better using “email or web-based virtual learning” but the
same or slightly poorer with video-based virtual learning (page
The types of virtual learning range from
supplementary to comprehensive, from synchronous to asynchronous, from audio to
web-based or videoconferenced, as well as innovative hybrids thereof. In 2004, a
synthesis of new research on K–12 online learning reported results across five
major meta-analyses. The authors summarized multiple meta-analyses, reporting
that on average students perform equally well or better academically in formal
online learning situations as students under traditional instruction. Summaries
also indicate that student achievement in courses using email and web-based
virtual learning was slightly better than in courses using traditional
instruction, while student achievement in courses with video-based virtual
learning was either the same or slightly lower than traditional instruction.
And here’s another section on “Computer Aided
Instruction” or CAI (page 13):
The power of CAI was in the provision of
supplementary activities to strengthen learning and skill levels through
provision of immediate feedback.
Communications. Educators are finding that
reflective dialog augments learning. Social networking accelerates learning and
is facilitated by technology. Students are highly motivated to communicate via
technology be it text messaging, email, instant messaging, talking, or
videoconferencing. Social networking via technology can connect students to a
broad range of interactivity that sharpens and extends thinking and piques
intellectual curiosity. Research on computer-supported collaborative learning
(CSCL) is only now emerging.
Educational gaming. In general, the
research on educational gaming finds that the use of computer games in
educational settings has a positive effect on academic achievement (reading
comprehension, algebra, and decoding), on attitudes toward learning, and on
self-concept, in comparison to traditional instruction. Studies have found that
games offer immediate feedback, increase active learner participation,
reinforce knowledge, and influence
attitudinal changes. Educational gaming favors the development of complex
thinking skills and problem solving, planning, and self-regulated learning.
Furthermore, the studies show that the impact of the game on learning depends on
the degree of interaction between the user and the system.
The report obviously cuts a fairly wide swath in its review "virtual learning" technologies if its including gaming, email, web and video-conferencing. But what seems clear is that technologies that enhance social networking among students and incorporate game play aspects to learning may be measurably more effective than standard video-conferencing distance learning. That’s good news for educational initiatives in There, Active Worlds and Second Life.
The full report can be downloaded from Cisco.com.