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A quick look at the “No Significant Difference Phenomenon” website might leave the casual observer to the conclusion that an overwhelming amount of data exists to support the notion that technologically-mediated instruction and/or “distance education” in nearly every form imaginable, has proven to be an effective and sometimes preferred method of educating students outside the confines of what is commonly referred to as the “traditional classroom” (Thomas Russell, 2001). From 1928 to the present, Russell has cataloged at least 355 studies, technical reports, and dissertations that have reviewed student learning outcomes in the form of satisfaction surveys, grade comparisons, standardized test scores, common embedded questions, frequency of interaction between students and faculty, and a dizzying array of other “measures” ostensibly aimed at determining if any measurable or statistically significant differences exist.

At face value, it seems that comparison or outcome studies would be one of the most effective methods for determining the effectiveness of various educational technologies. Since the 1994 publication of Richard Clark’s famous statement cautioning educational researchers to “give up your enthusiasm for the belief that media attributes cause learning”, he has convinced many researchers in the field that most if not all of “No Significant Difference” studies were in some way flawed. These studies had inadvertently attributed outcomes to differences in media rather than method (Richard Clark, 1994, p. 28). Simply stated, Clark presents the idea that measurable learner outcomes, when replicated using different media, indicate that the selection of the media has little to do with learner outcomes, rather the method that the media share in delivering content is the true catalyst that leads to understanding. Further, Clark stated that, “there are no benefits to be gained from employing different media in instruction (Richard Clark, 1983, p.450). Based on Clark’s thinking, it would seem that the 355 reports contained in Russell’s “No Significant Difference Phenomenon” website have focused primarily on differences in the media rather than the methods employed via the medium.


Originally published in the March 2002 issue of e-Journal of instructional Science and Technology.

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