The Effectiveness of Online and Blended Learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature

Barbara Means
Yukie Toyama
Robert Murphy
Marianne Baki


Earlier research on various forms of distance learning concluded that these technologies do not differ significantly from regular classroom instruction in terms of learning outcomes. Now that web-based learning has emerged as a major trend in both K–12 and higher education, the relative efficacy of online and face-to-face instruction needs to be revisited. The increased capabilities of web-based applications and collaboration technologies and the rise of blended learning models combining web-based and face-to-face classroom instruction have raised expectations for the effectiveness of online learning. This meta-analysis was designed to produce a statistical synthesis of studies contrasting learning outcomes for either fully online or blended learning conditions with those of face-to-face classroom instruction. The types of learners in the meta-analysis studies were about evenly split between students in college or earlier years of education and learners in graduate programs or professional training. The average learner age in a study ranged from 13 to 44. The meta-analysis was conducted on 50 effects found in 45 studies contrasting a fully or partially online condition with a fully face-to-face instructional condition. Length of instruction varied across studies and exceeded one month in the majority of them. The meta-analysis corpus consisted of (1) experimental studies using random assignment and (2) quasi-experiments with statistical control for preexisting group differences. An effect size was calculated or estimated for each contrast, and average effect sizes were computed for fully online learning and for blended learning. A coding scheme was applied to classify each study in terms of a set of conditions, practices, and methodological variables. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The advantage over face-to-face classes was significant in those studies contrasting blended learning with traditional face-to-face instruction but not in those studies contrasting purely online with face-to-face conditions. Studies using blended learning also tended to involve additional learning time, instructional resources, and course elements that encourage interactions among learners. This confounding leaves open the possibility that one or all of these other practice variables contributed to the particularly positive outcomes for blended learning. Further research and development on different blended learning models is warranted. Experimental research testing design principles for blending online and face-to-face instruction for different kinds of learners is needed.



Some previous research concerning effect of online education have suggested non-statistically significant effect of online education compared to face-to-face education. However, this study employs meta-analysis to distinguish benefits of blended learning from fully online-based education. The meta-analysis was conducted on 50 effect sizes from 45 literatures that observed both blended model and fully-online courses. The result reveals that the students in online learning conditions generally perform better than students in face-to-face learning settings. Also, blended learning have a significant effect compared to face-to-face traditional instruction, but fully-online course did not have significant difference. Future research should distinguish types of blended method, as well as different learners.

APA Citation

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., & Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), 1-47.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Technology-enhanced, Blended or Hybrid, Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Teachers College Record
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Meta-analysis
Intervention/Areas of Study Digital lecture, Efficacy or mode comparison
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Graduates, Undergraduates, Other
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 2-year institution, 4-year Institution, Associates-granting, Bachelors-granting, Masters-granting, Doctorate-granting, Private, Public, K-12
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Instructional effectiveness, Learning effectiveness, Program effectiveness
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en