According to a new study commissioned by the US Dept of Education titled "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies," students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
Giving students control of the learning process appears to make them learn better, and it can be further enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.
Of course, these things can also be done in a face-to-face course too, but I do hear these things attached more frequently to online learning for some reason.
The study is 92 pages. Here's the abstract:
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).
One start up idea I have been kicking around was game based learning. A first person Hamlet which can even have a "classic" mode to guide you user through the way the play actually goes down might work. I notice gamers who are not over whelmed with the experience do well all around.
In any case the game is changing, like it always does.