As the field of ed-tech has grown, research around the efficacy of technology has been hard to come by. Part of the difficulty is finding accurate comparisons because schools, administrations, districts and student populations across the country have their own individual sets of criteria and challenges.
A recent report by the RAND Corporation, in partnership with the Department of Education, tries to provide an objective overview of blended learning. RAND conducted a national two-year randomized trial to determine whether a blended learning curriculum developed by Carnegie Learning, Inc. had a positive effect on middle and high school algebra students. The report found that the curriculum, which included both instruction time on computers and in-person, improved high school performance by 8 percentile points.
For the study, RAND reached out to schools in rural, urban and suburban areas and included students living in high-poverty areas, places with high populations of ethnic minorities and every other kind of school. By choosing a diverse population of more than 18,000 students in 147 schools in seven states, the aim of the study was to ensure that the results could be applied to schools in any environment.
“What happens a disappointing amount of time is you don’t find significant effects,” said John Pane, senior scientist at RAND and lead researcher for the study. “So to have identified something that is educationally meaningful is a success. Everything we did was with an eye to not interfering with how schools normally operate.”
For the study, participating schools were given access to the software and teachers were trained without any additional supports, just as they would be if a school purchased the software on its own. Most restricted studies using certain products, Pane said, provide extra professional development or support, skewing the results.