Lee and Rha (2009) looked at how courses were set up and how that approach impacted receptive learning (e.g., declarative knowledge, information, or concepts) and how that approach impacted critical thinking (e.g., addressing critical issues by arguments, by criticism, and through discussion). The same course was taught multiple times by the same instructor. In one semester, the course was set up to be implemented with an emphasis on interpersonal interaction and very little emphasis on the structure of the course or the materials to be used; this course relied heavy on a class discussion forum. In this course, the instructor gave prompt feedback and posed guiding questions, etc. Another time, the course was implemented with an emphasis on highly structured self learning modules with little interpersonal interaction. In this course, the instructor provided informal, yet palatable curricular materials and independent assignments. The instructor did not encourage or deter interactions among students and did not interact with the students much.
These are two rather extreme approaches as my experience is something more in the middle for many of the college level online and hybrid courses I've observed. But as I look at the emerging models of online classes in k-12 environments, I am increasingly seeing corporate based and prepackaged curricular materials being implemented in online charter schools and even in many traditional public schools as part of their credit recovery efforts. These materials tend to be highly structured while also being very independent learning activities.
Lee and Rha (2009) note that students fare slightly better in a highly structured course with regard to receptive learning than did the students in the interactive course. However, students in the interactive course showed higher achievement in critical thinking than students in the more structured course.
I hesitate to generalize too many k-12 conclusions from this study on college students, but I do think it provides a thoughtful springboard to thinking about the way online classes are structured and how much interactivity should be built into online classes. I'll continue to explore this theme over the next several posts I contribute.
Lee, H.-J., & Rha, I. (2009). Influence of Structure and Interaction on Student Achievement and Satisfaction in Web-Based Distance Learning. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (4), 372-382