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What constitutes “better learning?”

There is ample evidence that people learn best when they are engaged by content that:

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL), an organization sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness  (OUSD P&R) within the U.S. Department of Defense, reported the results of multiple studies comparing e-learning, infused with varying amounts of engaging content, to traditional classroom instruction. 

As the graph below shows, 233 comparisons of basic computer-based instruction (containing little or no graphical content) indicated an average improvement over classroom instruction of .39 standard deviations.  Adding multimedia capabilities (e.g., pictures, sound, and animation) added effectiveness, raising the improvement to .50 standard deviations. 

Intelligent tutoring systems intended to more directly emulate one teacher interacting with one student, and allowing either the student or computer to ask questions, increased improvement to .84 standard deviations--roughly equivalent to moving a student in the 50th percentile of achievement range (i.e., in the middle of the “bell curve”) to the  65th percentile.  More advanced intelligent tutoring systems, featuring more adaptive learning, yielded improvements averaging about 1.05 standard deviations.  This improvement enables a student in the 50th percentile to move to the 75th percentile (half-way down the right slope of the bell curve). 

No e-learning courseware studied produced the 2.0 standard deviation improvement which had been attained by some professionally tutored individuals, but the trends appeared promising.