How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature

Robert Bernard
Phillip C Abarami
Yiping Lou
Evgueni Borokhovski
Anne Wade
Lori Wozney
Peter A. Wallet
Mannon Fiset
Binru Huang


A meta-analysis of the comparative distance education (DE) literature between 1985 and 2002 was conducted. In total, 232 studies containing 688 independent achievement, attitude, and retention outcomes were analyzed. Overall results indicated effect sizes of essentially zero on all three measures and wide variability. This suggests that many applications of DE outperform their classroom counterparts and that many perform more poorly. Dividing achievement outcomes into synchronous and asynchronous forms of DE produced a some what different impression. In general, mean achievement effect sizes for synchronous applications favored classroom instruction, while effect sizes for asynchronous applications favored DE. However, significant heterogeneity remained in each subset.


Classroom instruction, Comparative studies, Distance education, Meta analysis, Research methodology


Comprehensive meta-analysis of literature from 1985 through December 2002. 2,262 research abstracts and 862 full-text articles were looked at. Measured attitude and retention outcomes. Found that it is hard to find what works overall because of the variability in sample size and outcomes of the studies.

APA Citation

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Lou, Y., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Wozney, L., ... & Huang, B. (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of educational research, 74(3), 379-439.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Review of Educational Research
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Meta-analysis
Intervention/Areas of Study Course design
Level of Analysis Course-level
Specific Populations Examined
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Retention
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en